PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Highmark has declared a “War on Opioids,” saying it’s making changes to slow down the growing epidemic.
Last year, 4,600 people died from opioid overdoses in the commonwealth.
“Today’s addiction crisis is actually history repeating itself,” Highmark’s chief medical officer, Dr. Charles DeShazer, said. “This is the third opioid epidemic in American history and the second that was driven by physicians over-prescribing.”
The system director of the Allegheny Health Network division of pain medicine, Dr. Jack Kabazie, M.D., says doctors need to change how much medicine they prescribe after surgery.
“What we are advocating is that you only give somebody enough medication to get back to the surgeon for the post-surgical check,” Kabazie said. “Don’t give them a month’s supply of medication that may sit in their medicine cabinet for someone else to abuse or divert.”
Dr. Karen Hacker, with the Allegheny County Health Department, cautions the reality is the opioid epidemic is not limited to prescription pain killers.
“The insurers are starting to crack down on the volume of opioids that are being prescribed,” she said, “and when the physicians are reducing the volume, you often see an unexpected group of people that are somewhat invisible that the system turned to street drugs.”
Highmark has seen success in its war on opioids in West Virginia. It is bringing that same company into the mix in Pennsylvania, even though the two states are very different.
“Partnering with Axial has allowed us to really make a difference,” Highmark President Deb Rice-Johnson said. “I think that is very translatable to the rural counties, but I think it is going to have a big impact from an educational perspective in all of our market across Pennsylvania.”
Because Highmark says something has to be done.
“We are finding that deaths of despair have risen dramatically in middle-aged white rural Americans, especially in our markets of Pennsylvania and West Virginia,” DeShazer said.