Insurance Industry Report Blames Prescribers for Opioid Crisis

A review of claims data found inconsistent adherence to new CDC prescribing guidelines.

Insurance Industry Report Blames Prescribers for Opioid Crisis
As the blame game over the opioid crisis escalates, a health industry trade group is pointing a finger at prescribing doctors as one of the leading causes of a problem that’s now resulting in more than 33,000 drug abuse deaths in the U.S. each year.
America’s Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP, released a 16-page report that showed that prescribing doctors didn’t often follow opioid prescribing guidelines later published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
AHIP’s report, The STOP Measure: Safe and Transparent Opioid Prescribing to Promote Patient Safety and Reduced Risk of Opioid Misuse, is based on an analysis of claims data of patients who had at least one prescription for an opioid medication from 2009 through 2013. AHIP compared information from the claims data with the CDC’s opioid prescribing guidelines, which were first released in 2016.
By looking at prescribing practices before the release of the CDC guidelines, the analysis generated “an industry-wide baseline” from which to track the guidelines’ impact on doctors and others who prescribe opioid medications to their patients, AHIP said.
The AHIP analysis of claims data found a number of gaps between prescribing practices from 2009 through 2013 and what the CDC later recommended. For example:
  • 57 percent of opioid prescriptions written for acute pain in 2013 were for a supply for four or more days. The CDC recommends a supply for three days or less.
  • 23.3 percent of initial opioid prescriptions written for chronic pain in 2013 were for single doses of 50 milligrams or more. The CDC recommends that initial doses be less than 50 milligrams.
  • 52 percent of patients in 2013 did not have a follow-up evaluation of their opioid therapy for chronic pain within 30 days of their initial prescription. The CDC recommends that patients be evaluated within one to four weeks.
  • 1.4 percent of patients in 2013 underwent a urine drug test before starting opioid therapy for chronic pain. The CDC recommends that patients undergo urine testing before starting therapy.
  • 41.2 percent of patients in 2013 were prescribed both opioid pain medications and benzodiazepines, which are sedatives used to treat sleeping disorders, anxiety and panic attacks. The CDC says opioids and benzodiazepines should not be prescribed concurrently.  
“These initial results will help ensure we’re making a meaningful and measurable impact as we work hand-in-hand with hospitals, physicians, patients and their families to stop this epidemic,” AHIP said.
Twin Cities Business analyzed the effects the opioid crisis was having on the workplace in out October feature “The Workforce’s Hidden Addicts.”
To learn more about what employers can do to mitigate the problems of opioid abuse, read “Finishing Off Leftover Opioid Prescriptions” in Twin Cities Business.
Newsletter Sign Up