Insurers should care about the opioid crisis

We cannot afford to ignore this health emergency

The drug crisis continues to take hold in New Hampshire, with more than 400 deaths from drug overdoses in 2017. With Congress’ recent approval of almost $23 million in funding to support efforts specifically to combat the opioid crisis in New Hampshire, I thought it timely to provide my thoughts as to why insurers should invest in and truly care about combatting the opioid crisis as well.

Dentists, physicians, oral surgeons and general surgeons all have the authority to prescribe pain medication, which is sometimes necessary to relieve the patient’s pain. Alternatives such as over-the-counter medications (acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen), are often now recommended as the best option and first-line of defense to relieve pain after surgery, etc.

Because pain thresholds vary by patient, prescription pain medication frequently goes unused and is saved by patients “just in case” they need them, someday. By doing this, patients are putting themselves, their family members and friends at risk.

In an effort to combat this “just in case” mentality, Jim and Jeanne Moser of East Kingston formed an awareness campaign called Zero Left, after losing their son Adam to a fentanyl overdose in 2015.

Granite Health expanded Zero Left’s campaign in 2017, following a three-prong approach to prevent harm from opioid misuse. Northeast Delta Dental sponsored Zero Left’s effort alongside our medical insurance partner in New Hampshire, Tufts Health Freedom Plan. This effort was a partnership between Tufts Health Freedom Plan, Northeast Delta Dental and the independent health systems that are among Granite Health’s membership — Catholic Medical Center, Concord Hospital, Exeter Health Resources, LRGHealthcare, Southern New Hampshire Health Systems and Wentworth-Douglass Hospital.

Last June, I had the honor of participating in the unveiling of a medication take-back box at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover. Subsequently, take-back boxes were installed at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester and LRGHealthcare in Laconia.

The idea behind the Zero Left Campaign is to have “zero left” in the medicine cabinet. Additional tactics included providing medication destruction packets to physicians for distribution to patients. This is an important component, as it allows for another conversation point to occur between the patient and their doctor regarding their prescription and appropriate disposal of any unused pain medication. We also invested in hosting combined continuing education courses for the dental and medical community regarding safe prescribing of pain medication.

As a tri-state and not-for-profit organization, Northeast Delta Dental’s commitment doesn’t end in New Hampshire.

We have also provided support to the Chittenden County Opioid Alliance for a collective impact approach to combat the epidemic in Vermont. We also sponsored a safe prescribing training through the Vermont State Dental Society, and we plan to support efforts in this arena through the Maine Dental Association as well.

Opioid misuse and drug addiction have negative effects on physical and mental health, all of which, from the employer perspective, can impact an employee’s ability to perform at their best. I have spent much time with John T. Broderick, helping to increase awareness of the signs of mental distress through the Campaign to Change Direction, and we recently hosted a forum with his colleagues at Dartmouth-Hitchcock to open the dialogue about mental health, substance abuse, and how these topics intertwine and impact the workplace.

Those who abuse heroin, opioids or other drugs are also more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease. From Northeast Delta Dental’s perspective, we know that you cannot have good overall health without good oral health, and as a large employer in New Hampshire, we know that we cannot ignore this health crisis.

The private, public and nonprofit sectors should continue to work together to generate positive change. Northeast Delta Dental is committed to doing our part to end the opioid crisis in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. 

Tom Raffio is president and CEO of Northeast Delta Dental.

Categories: Opinion