Philadelphia, PA — Statement from Daniel J. Hilferty, president and CEO of Independence Health Group, on Gov. Tom Wolf declaring Pennsylvania’s heroin and opioid addiction crisis a statewide disaster emergency.
“Opioid abuse is the worst drug crisis in American history and the tragic epidemic is only growing in our region. Each day, thousands of people begin to misuse prescription opioids and many of them will join the millions of Americans already suffering from addiction. Tragically, many will also die. Almost 1,700 people in southeastern Pennsylvania died in 2016 from an opioid overdose. Overdose statistics from 2017 are not yet available, however, health officials estimate that there were 1,200 overdose deaths in Philadelphia alone in 2017, 300 more than in 2016. Those figures are stunning, tragic, and unacceptable. We agree with Gov. Wolf that the Commonwealth must explore every option available to address this devastating epidemic.
I see the toll of this epidemic every day in my role as CEO of the region’s leading health insurer, and at Independence, we are committed to turning the tide. Since 2014, we have been keenly focused on prevention and treatment of this crisis and our efforts continue to intensify. As a result, inappropriate opioid prescribing and use among members has been reduced by more than 40 percent.
Steps taken by Independence:
- In November 2017, the Independence Blue Cross Foundation hosted Governor Wolf for a major opioid event in Philadelphia that included an announcement about a research initiative with the Justice Center for Research at Penn State University for a multi-media public awareness campaign to share stories of addiction and recovery to reduce the shame often associated with opioid abuse.
- In June 2017, Independence became one of the first insurers in the country to restrict most initial low-dose opioid prescriptions to no more than five days. During the last 6 months of 2017, the number of members using opioids dropped 22% and the number of prescriptions dropped 26%. We are confident limiting initial opioid prescriptions will reduce the risk for addiction as well as decrease the amount of unused opioids in American homes.
- We cover methadone treatment with no copays for in-network providers as well as the most commonly prescribed medication-assisted treatments (combining counseling and behavioral treatments with medication). Independence also covers naloxone, including faster-acting nasal spray, used to revive overdose victims.
- We work closely with law enforcement agencies to reduce fraud and abuse, including recent schemes to recruit drug users to other states for treatment.
- We promote Centers for Disease Control prescribing guidelines which inform doctors which patients receive opioids outside of those guidelines so they can take action.
- The Independence Blue Cross Foundation, through its Supporting Treatment and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Initiative, supports abuse and recovery awareness efforts, community-based opioid abuse treatment and prevention efforts including drug take back initiatives and funding research to advance hospital programs that connect overdose victims to immediate recovery resources.
We are encouraged to see our state leaders face this epidemic head on. We look forward to working closely with all stakeholders to address this crisis.
Resources for prevention, access to quality treatments, and elimination of the stigma around addiction are critical. Addiction knows no boundaries. It affects people of all ages, races and backgrounds. Every single life lost is heartbreaking, and the pain in our communities is devastating. Every single life lost is a tragedy.”
Editor’s note: Visit our website for resources to help support individuals and families dealing with substance abuse and read more about what the Independence Blue Cross Foundation is doing to fight opioid abuse.