Cigna says it's slashed customers' opioid use by 25%

Hydrocodone opioid pills
Cigna said opioid use is down 25% among its customers. (Getty/smartstock)

A major health insurer said it's reduced opioid use among its customers by 25% within two years.

Cigna said in a statement that it reached that goal, part of its ongoing efforts to curb the opioid epidemic, one year ahead of schedule. More than 2.5 million more suffer from substance abuse disorders related to opioid pain relievers, according to the insurer.

“We committed to this reduction for our customers because we recognized the severity of the epidemic and its impact on people from every walk of life, their families, employers and communities,” said David M. Cordani, president and CEO of Cigna. “We are proud that we achieved this goal early, but even more importantly, we did so by enhancing patient support and ensuring our customers have access to the right care at the right time.”

The company said it achieved its goal, set in 2016, by partnering with more than 1.1 million prescribing clinicians and physicians. Twenty-five percent was the chosen target because it would return members' opioid use rates to pre-epidemic levels, according to Cigna. 

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“We collaborated with Cigna very early on, looking at the opioid prescription habits of our physicians and trying to get our practice more commensurate with national guidelines,” John Bertini, M.D., of Renaissance Physicians in Houston, Texas, said in the announcement. “As we work together to address this problem, we are enhancing the health of the populations of patients that we collectively serve.”

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Federal and state lawmakers have also taken action to try to control the public health issue. The omnibus spending legislation contained about $4 billion in funding to combat the crisis, including increased discretionary funding for HHS and an increase to the National Institutes of Health's research budget.

However, a report from the White House estimated that the opioid epidemic cost more than $500 billion in 2015.