Highmark declares 'war on opioids': 3 things to know

Pittsburgh-based Highmark Health Plan will limit opioid prescriptions for members not already taking the medications to seven days, beginning March 8. Additionally, these members will only be allotted 14 days of opioids per month, according to a report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The new restrictions on prescription painkillers are part of the insurer's "war on opioids" declared Feb. 15 by Highmark President Deborah Rice-Johnson.  

"We have to do something about it," Ms. Rice-Johnson said of the opioid epidemic on Feb. 15, according to the Post-Gazette. "We have declared war on opioids."

Here are three things to know.

1. The new restrictions on opioid prescriptions will not apply to chronic pain patients already taking the drugs, as such action could result in these patients turning to illicit drug use. However, these Highmark members may be weaned off the drugs and some new acute pain patients may never be prescribed opioids, according to the report.

2. The insurer will also require prior authorization for long-acting opioids and encourage the use of alternative pain management treatments, such as physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture.

3. Highmark also expanded its partnership with axialHealthcare, a health technology company focused on optimizing pain treatment. In 2016, Highmark tapped the company to use analytics and electronic tools to help physicians in West Virginia reduce opioid overprescribing, which resulted in a more than 28 percent reduction in the number of patients receiving opioids from multiple physicians, according to a Feb. 15 press release. On Feb. 1, Highmark expanded this effort to include providers in Pennsylvania.

More articles on opioids: 
Narcan distribution helps lower opioid deaths in New York county 
Las Vegas pain physician arrested for illegal fentanyl distribution: 5 things to know 
5 healthcare workers offer their take on opioid addiction

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