October 20, 2017 News

Battling the Opioid Epidemic

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I spend most of my time talking about health care policy, affordability, and ways to fix our broken system. Today, I want to talk about something more personal: the opioid epidemic. This is an issue that hits close to home for many Capital Region families and one that, I’m afraid, has no easy fix.

The Opioid Epidemic

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 91 Americans die each day from opioid abuse. That’s more than gun violence, house fires, and drowning deaths combined. What’s more frightening is that this epidemic is taking place in our own backyard. Last year, 506 CDPHP® members had a documented opioid overdose, and those are the just the people we know about.

As a health plan, employer, and citizen of this community, I believe it’s our responsibility to do something. At CDPHP, that something involves a multidisciplinary team of medical directors, pharmacists, nurses, and mental health experts – all of who are working alongside local doctors to curb the number of opioids prescribed in our community.

It Starts with Education and a History Lesson

The use of opioids to treat pain and other ailments began in the late 1800s when Bayer Co. began the first clinical trial of heroin. The poppy derivative was considered a “wonder drug” and was used for everything from a pain reliever to a cough suppressant. Soon thereafter, doctors became aware of heroin’s addictive nature, and in 1924, the drug was outlawed.

Fast forward to the 70s, 80s, and early 90s when drugs like Percocet, Vicodin, and OxyContin came on the scene and doctors began treating pain as the “fifth vital sign.” At the time, scholarly articles – including one printed in The New England Journal of Medicine – claimed that opioids were patients’ best line of defense for pain management and that “the development of addiction is rare in medical patients with no history of addiction.”

Today, we know those claims were terribly false, and we’re doing everything we can to back pedal on years of overprescribing. But that’s easier said than done. At CDPHP, we’re starting by educating our members, providers, and the community-at-large about the appropriate uses for opioids, as well as alternatives for pain management.

The CDPHP Opioid Initiative

First and foremost, it’s important to remember that opioids provide powerful relief for many responsible, compliant patients who benefit from their pain-reducing effects. But they must be used responsibly. To help ensure this occurs, CDPHP created an opioid initiative with the following goals:

  • Provide affordable, accessible, and appropriate pain care
  • Prevent new users from becoming chronic users
  • Work with chronic/high-dose users to decrease dose and/or discontinue
  • Educate providers, members, and employees of CDPHP
  • Reduce diversion of prescription medications (transferring a drug from the individual prescribed to another individual)
  • Support members who need substance use treatment

At CDPHP, we believe that these are important first steps to address the opioid epidemic, but we know this is not a silver bullet. Combatting the opioid crisis will take collaboration, creativity, and a lot of patience. As we work to find these solutions, I want to offer my support to local families – some I know personally – who are praying for children, parents, brothers, and sisters caught up in this crisis.

John D. Bennett, MD, FACC, FACP
About the Author

John D. Bennett, MD, FACC, FACP, is president and CEO of Capital District Physicians’ Health Plan, Inc. (CDPHP), an award-winning, physician aligned, not-for-profit health plan based in Albany, NY. Bennett has held the position since 2008 after serving more than 10 years as chair, vice chair, and board member for CDPHP. During his tenure, CDPHP has been ranked among the top-performing health plans in New York and the nation, most recently named #1 in Customer Satisfaction in the 2023 J.D. Power Member Health Plan Study. Under his leadership, CDPHP has also become known as a model employer regionally and nationally and was recently named among the top five Best Companies to Work for in New York by the Society for Human Resource Management, as well as Forbes Best-in-State Employers 2022. Prior to joining CDPHP, Bennett served as founding member and CEO of Prime Care Physicians, PLLC. During his tenure, he co-led a team of 25 cardiologists and helped grow the practice to a 100-physician multi-specialty group. Bennett is board certified by the National Board of Medical Examiners and the American Board of Internal Medicine, with subspecialties in internal medicine and cardiology. He earned his medical degree at SUNY-Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, and a Bachelor of Science degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Bennett completed an internship and residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in cardiovascular disease at Albany Medical Center. He is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and the American College of Physicians. Bennett is currently board chair for the Center for Economic Growth and the Capital Region Chamber, and vice chair for the Palace Theatre. Bennett also serves on the boards of the New York eHealth Collaborative (NYeC), the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP), America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Russell Sage Colleges. Bennett is a member of the New York Public Health and Health Planning Council where he helps shape decisions related to New York State's public health and health care delivery system. Well-known locally and nationally for advancing health care innovation, Bennett was recently named to Crain’s New York Business 2021 Notable in Health Care, as well as the Albany Business Review’s Power 50 list.

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