Oregon’s opioid epidemic: how we can push back together

By Regence
October 07, 2019
Walgreens Photo

Main Photo: (Left to right) Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle, Oregon Representative Sheri Malstrom, Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon Executive Medical Director Dr. James Polo, and Wendy Berg, Director of Walgreens Pharmacy & Retail Operations. 

Opioid misuse continues to be a national public health crisis.

Today, Oregon has one of the highest rates of prescription opioid misuse in the nation. While statewide solutions have helped reduce prescription opioid overdose deaths over the years, an average of five Oregonians die every week from an overdose.

Regence understands the urgency and widespread nature of the opioid crisis in our communities, and we are working to decrease misuse while supporting appropriate use for those who can benefit from opioid treatment. This year, Regence is proud to support KATU’s Recover Northwest, a campaign dedicated to raising awareness of the opioid epidemic in Oregon and supporting solutions that address it.

Read on to learn more about how we’re pushing back on this national health crisis through our prescribing practices and policies, community partner relationships and support of our members.

Hazelden Betty Ford Photo

We support our members through strong medication policies and provider partnerships.
Our opioid prescription policies align with CDC best practices, which include strict limits on quantities and days’ supplies of most long-acting opioids. We provide pharmacy and provider notices for members using high-dose opioids, and we offer comprehensive support for screening, identification and treatment of opioid misuse or abuse.

We also forge partnerships with world-class providers of addiction and recovery services to support our members who need it. Recently, Regence announced a partnership with Hazelden Betty Ford, increasing our members’ access to in-network addiction treatment services. Support programs are also available through Hazelden Betty Ford for families faced with a loved one’s addiction.

We work to decrease opioid misuse, but also ensure access when appropriate.
At the end of 2018, we announced a 39 percent decrease in opioid prescriptions among our members. This was achieved through a comprehensive approach that includes education and awareness, behavioral health care management, and supporting community organizations working toward substance abuse treatment.

A key source of opioid addiction is chronic pain, and we help our members access non-opioid alternative treatments and support. For example, we partner with The Portland Clinic to offer a series of Chronic Pain Management classes, aimed at helping people understand and appropriately manage their pain without the use of opioids.

We partner with other organizations working toward solutions.
Addressing the opioid epidemic requires the support of many. In 2018, we announced an innovative partnership with Walgreens to provide safe medication disposal kiosks, to make it easier for people to securely dispose of unused medication year-round. Since the program began in March 2016, Walgreens has collected and safely disposed of more than 1.2 million pounds of unwanted prescription medications. 

You can be part of the solution.
As a community, we can end the opioid epidemic in Oregon. Here’s how you can get started: 

  • Educate yourself. Dr. Jim Polo, Regence’s behavioral health medical director, was a guest on the HealthChangers podcast. Listen to this episode to learn more about the opioid epidemic and some of the programs that are addressing misuse in our communities.
  • Encourage safe prescribing practices. We created an Opioid Conversation Guide that patients and their doctors can use to make sure they are on the same page about pain management. The guide includes 10 questions – five that can start the conversation around the right course of pain treatment and whether opioids are appropriate, and five more if opioids are determined to be the best option. Download or print this PDF to take to the doctor or share it with a friend.
  • Safely dispose of unneeded medication. Join us in supporting National Prescription Drug Take Back days, put on by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which take place twice a year. Saturday, Oct. 26 is the next chance to safely dispose of old or unneeded drugs. Learn more and find a collection site near you.
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