Tennessee Blue Cross Blue Shield Stops Covering OxyContin In Effort To Fight Opioid Epidemic

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As the U.S. continues to face an opioid abuse epidemic, The Tennessean reports that top Tennessee insurance agency Blue Cross Blue Shield will stop covering Oxycontin, a commonly prescribed opioid painkiller, on January 1, 2019. BlueCross issued a statement Thursday informing the public of the plan’s pending changes.

Oxycontin is the brand name for the drug oxycodone, which is believed to be at the center of the nationwide opioid epidemic, The Tennessean reports. Reports say that last year, 1,268 Tennesseans died from opioid overdoses, among 49,000 victims nationwide. Reportedly, Purdue Pharma has been the center of lawsuits filed by Tennessee which blame the company for pressuring doctors to over-prescribe the pain pills. As a result, a precedent for insurance companies to prefer “safer” medications is arising in the battle to reduce opioid overdoses nationwide.

Two alternative medications, Xtampza and Morphabond, will instead be the go-to choices for BlueCross’s coverage starting in January. These two opioid drugs have been designed to deter abuse, due to the claim that they are more difficult to grind up for abuse. While cancer and hospice patients, as well as Medicare patients, will be exempt from the new drug restrictions, Obamacare patients insured by BlueCross will not be able to have the drug covered.

Even for those patients who receive the new recommended opioid drugs, there will be limits on the way their prescriptions are filled by BlueCross, The Tennessean states. These limits will restrict BlueCross’s initial coverage to seven days worth of the pain pills, after which patients will have to visit the pharmacy to receive more if needed. Also, any patient with a prescription of more than 30 days will have to undergo a medical evaluation before being prescribed anymore past that point. Finally, the insurance company will lower the strength threshold of opioids allowed for coverage, claiming that the lower threshold should not make a noticeable difference to patients because the drugs’ effectiveness tapers at any higher amounts.

Purdue Pharma issued a statement regarding common media misconceptions regarding their drug, Oxycontin. According to the statement, the manufacturer is aware of the opioid crisis and is taking steps to make the drug less effective for abuse.

“For the past three decades, Purdue Pharma has developed opioid medications prescribed to patients with severe chronic pain. Purdue is acutely aware of the public health risks these medications create, especially when they are abused or misused. Pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue, are developing innovative technologies to create opioid medications in new forms that are more difficult to manipulate, and therefore less gratifying to abusers. Purdue is also working with policymakers and health experts throughout the country to reduce the risks involving opioids.”