Our Collective Role in Combating the Opioid Abuse Crisis: Private Healthcare Perspective (Part Three)

Nationwide, states and communities continue to wrestle with the devastating effects caused by the opioid abuse crisis. Both the public and private sector are battling this growing and evolving epidemic on many fronts, often using reactionary, siloed solutions to combat the problem. Here, we call for new, collaborative approaches to solving the crisis, offering insight into innovative, grassroots solutions that engage players across the healthcare ecosystem and are transforming the battle against opioid abuse.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates 144 Americans die from a drug overdose every day. Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States, ahead of motor vehicle deaths and firearm deaths. Each year, our country spends more than $740 billion in healthcare, law enforcement, crime, and other services relating to substance abuse. Of that, $78.5 billion is estimated to be the result of the “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse.

These statistics are staggering. The opioid epidemic is decimating a generation of Americans, yet it’s an illness we can treat. However, we cannot rely on efforts from governments and communities alone. Private sector engagement can help support treatment in their states and communities. The infusion of private dollars into an organization receiving government money can be helpful in making those organizations financially sound. The private sector can also engage government leaders to make its voice heard. Corporate leaders can join not-for-profit (NFP) boards, lending their skills and expertise to make those NFPs stronger and more effective. This illness will require an all hands-on deck approach in which engagement from public and private sector organizations are necessary to make a change for the better as we fight this deadly epidemic. In contributing to a solution, we’ve identified four key impact areas for the private sector to consider:


Our business leaders should be made aware of how the opioid epidemic is affecting our communities and offer forums for employees to talk openly about issues they may be facing. Employees need to feel comfortable seeking help. In addition, private sector companies (payors, pharmaceutical companies, medical schools, etc.) can be involved with providing education to opioid prescribers, tracking prescribers, promoting opioid pain management alternatives, and participating in drug monitoring programs.  With private sector organizations focusing on some of the preventive activities (below) they can make significant impacts on this epidemic:

  • Enroll at-risk youth and adults into effective substance use disorder (SUD) prevention programs that include youth life skills programs, awareness programs for parents, crisis response training, online and live educational programs.
  • Educate and track opioid prescribers, including educating and promoting opioid pain management alternatives and prescription drug monitoring programs, and tracking over-prescribing physicians. Members should also be educated on the risks of using multiple pharmacies, and providers should be educated on the risks of over-prescription.
  • Identify, track, and prosecute illicit substance suppliers using an early warning system where key related information (e.g. arrests, overdoses, hotline calls) is captured, tracked, and reported on a timely basis in the community for the purpose of triggering timely interventions.
  • Capture performance data and review results on a regular basis to identify opportunities for improvement.

Harm Reduction

Healthcare companies are beginning to partner with agencies and organizations to fund opioid efforts.  They are also developing opioid treatment alternatives and opioid access limitations to reduce the harm caused by addiction. For example, Pacira Pharmaceuticals manufactures and markets Exparel, a treatment serving as an alternative to opioids to alleviate post-surgical pain – a primary introduction point for opioid use. We are also seeing the increasing prevalence of prescriber monitoring. CVS Health has launched a new prescriber and suspension program to control access to opioids, improve healthcare outcomes, and lower healthcare costs. This opioid utilization management program covers all commercial, individual, Medicare, and Medicaid patients. CVS is also offering counseling and education to customers about safe opioid use and addiction, and expanding their Pharmacists Teach program.

Areas where we believe the private sector can create impact here include:

  • Provider and user education to effectively control prescription opioids in homes and institutions and prevent unauthorized access/use
  • Increased access to clean facilities and Medication Assisted Therapies, as well as tracking the use of unsafe needles and promotion of programs to reduce the use of unsafe needles
  • Interventions which include patient placement into a pharmacy lock program

Treatment and Recovery

Companies shouldn’t view addiction as a moral failing or character flaw, but rather it should be treated a disease with rigorous treatment efforts similar to that of any other disease.  Private organizations can adapt strategies to support those seeking help to identify the best type of treatment and locate care. They can even play a role in determining which providers should be included in networks and to identify other areas in need of improvement.

Shatterproof, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the devastation addiction causes to families has brought together insurers, providers, advocates, and other stakeholders (both from the public and private sector) to prevent and combat substance abuse. As a result, several insurance companies representing more than 250 million people have agreed to adopt eight National Principles of Care for the treatment of addiction. These insurers are committed to identifying and promoting treatment which improves a patient’s life. This is just one example where the private sector is being engaged to improve the treatment and recovery of those dealing with addiction. To create an impact in the areas of treatment and recovery, private sector organizations should focus on the following areas first:

  • Increased access to whole-person, evidence-based treatment and recovery plans for those with SUD disorders
  • Regular, consistent review of treatment and recovery effectiveness programs
  • Utilizing population health modeling tools to define member identification logic to identify and continuously monitor short- and long-term opioid use

The opioid abuse epidemic affects all of us: our friends, our families, our communities. As a result, we must look beyond siloed solutions to the epidemic. There are many ways in which the private sector can contribute to a collective solution, including payors, home health, telemedicine, and mobile technologies. The key is for every organization to take a critical look at its unique position in the healthcare ecosystem and identify its role in shaping a solution.

For more insights on this topic, check out our comprehensive outlook on the scope of the opioid abuse crisis, and our blog on the implications for the public sector.