2018-05-16 / Opinions

Fixing opioid abuse demands innovation

By BILL JONES

Here’s a sobering statistic. Emergency departments in Kentucky saw a 266 percent increase in heroin overdoses between 2013 and 2016 according to data from the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.

The opioid epidemic is destroying families and being felt in real ways in workplaces, emergency rooms and, all too often, our own homes.

At WellCare, we are working diligently to address the opioid epidemic — from helping people recover from substance abuse to preventing it from taking hold of their lives in the first place.

Here’s one example of how we’re working to prevent opioid addiction right here in Kentucky.

WellCare identified 1,300 members who, based on their refill patterns and other factors, appeared to be at risk for developing an opioid addiction. These members were connected to one pharmacy, one physician and one care manager — a team approach in which everyone on the team was aware of the entire case history.

The result: opioid dispensing dropped by 55 percent.

This kind of innovative approach is successful because it addresses opioid abuse at the root, helping people – many of whom are living with pain – find a healthy path forward that works to lower the risk of opioid addiction.

WellCare is looking at other innovative ways to address this issue as well.

Earlier this year, we donated $35,000 to support addiction recovery programs throughout the state, including $25,000 to Addiction Recovery Care (ARC), which operates seven residential facilities throughout eastern Kentucky.

In Illinois, WellCare has implemented programs to encourage doctors to refer members to substance abuse treatment if they are at-risk for addiction – and to encourage members to keep follow-up appointments.

In another intervention program, WellCare helped educate Medicare members on alternative treatments, conducted proactive outreach out to prescribers and connected members to Well- Care’s behavioral health case management teams for support. As a result, between 2015 and 2017 opioid utilization dropped by 43 percent.

WellCare understands both the individual, community and financial costs of opioid addiction.

But we also understand that prevention is possible, if we all work together. Making a difference one member at a time is what we do every day.

Bill Jones is president of Well- Care of Kentucky.

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