VA, Cigna partner to reduce opioid use among veterans

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs partnered with Cigna to improve opioid addiction services for veterans. (monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images)

The Department of Veterans Affairs has partnered with Cigna to help prevent opioid use and abuse among those in chronic pain.

The new public and private partnership will help veterans with chronic pain who are at more risk for opioid abuse, according to an announcement.

Part of the initiative will include education of veterans and their families, along with providers, about safe opioid use. The partnership also aims to improve patient and provider interactions and discussions around opioid use, and in addition, will help improve the delivery of care for veterans with opioid addiction. 

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“This partnership is in line with VA’s priorities of transforming our business systems and supporting more robust partnerships with state and local communities,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “By partnering with Cigna, we have extended our reach to help improve the way healthcare providers approach opioid use and we demonstrate our commitment to place Veterans’ safety and well-being above all.”

David Cordani, president and CEO of Cigna, agreed in a statement that public and private partnerships are key to fighting the opioid epidemic.

Under the scope of work, both entities will promote existing support resources such as the Veterans Crisis Line and Cigna’s Veterans Support Line.

“We view public-private partnerships as a unique, powerful approach to address the nation’s most serious issues and as a health care leader and top employer of Veterans, we share a common goal with the VA—to support and improve the health and well-being of our Veterans. We also have a long-standing commitment to improving the safety and quality of pain control by helping curb the country’s opioid epidemic; the VA was a natural partner in our goal to make a real impact in addressing appropriate pain control for this important audience," a spokesperson from Cigna told FierceHealthcare. 

The VA began implementing an opioid safety initiative—updated in 2017—and in the past six years has reduced the number of opioid prescriptions among veterans by more than 50%. The VA is managing pain through other strategies such as yoga, meditation and acupuncture. Also, the VA instructs its providers’ in-state prescription-drug monitoring programs and training to address opioid use.

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Last year, VA hospitals across the country added naloxone to their AED cabinets to use during a potential opioid overdose. 

The VA joins other governmental bodies in the continuous update to programs, resources and guidelines for dealing with this epidemic. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced the updating and clarifying of its opioid guideline after authors stated that medical professionals had misapplied those recommendations.

The CDC originally issued its guideline in March 2016 in an attempt to curb widespread opioid abuse. The guideline was intended for primary care clinicians and advised them to prescribe treatments other than opioids for chronic pain, but the authors of the paper warned it was not intended to rob patients of pain relief.

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