Letters to the Editor

06/20 What You’re Saying: Anurandha Rao-Patel, and Rene de la Varre

What Blue Cross is doing about opioids

Regarding “BCBS treatment for opioids lacking” (June 8): It is important to understand that solving the opioid epidemic is not as easy as relaxing medical safeguards for certain drugs used to treat addiction – especially when doing so may worsen the epidemic or put a patient’s well-being at risk.

I am a pain management specialist, and currently serve as a medical director at Blue Cross NC. I have treated patients struggling with opioid use disorder. We cannot prescribe our way out of this epidemic. Blue Cross NC is taking a three-pronged approach that focuses on prevention, intervention and treatment.

Prevention includes opioid risk screening, educating doctors on CDC guidelines and state laws and partnering with pharmacies on the safe disposal of opioids. We have also limited the first-time prescription of short-acting opioids to a seven-day maximum supply as required by the STOP Act. In one month, we stopped 1,700 prescriptions above these limits, and prevented 70,000 excess pills from going into circulation.

Intervention includes using advanced analytics to detect unusual patterns of opioid prescribing and monitoring for doctor and pharmacy shopping. We also require doctors to obtain prior authorization before approving medications such as buprenorphine and extended release opioids. Not only do these drugs carry a high street value, they can interact dangerously with other drugs. We want to ensure that our members get the medications they need – and don’t get ones that could cause them harm.

Treatment resources include a 24-hour phone line for members to get help with addiction. Treatment also includes coverage for multiple forms of non-pharmaceutical pain management therapies and coverage of telehealth options for substance abuse. In addition to these efforts, we committed $10 million to addressing the opioid epidemic in North Carolina this year alone.

Every policy we have, every investment we make and every effort we give is designed to prevent addiction, treat dependency and save lives. We are working with doctors, pharmacists, communities, hospitals, behavioral health providers and others to help solve this problem.

This complex issue will take us all working together to improve outcomes for people in North Carolina. We are making progress – since 2013, Blue Cross NC has lowered opioid prescriptions by 16 percent. There is still more we can do. We are committed to being there every step of the way.

Anurandha Rao-Patel, M.D.

The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response.

Find more worthy cause

I beg to differ with Mr. Custer’s version of what Israel is (“What You’re Saying,” June 18).

Do Israel’s critics really believe that Israel is as bad as they indicate? Ask the Arab-Israeli citizens of Israel if they would rather live in Israel or a new state of “Palestine?” Sixty to 70 percent will say they prefer Israel.

I suggest the critics undertake a more worthy cause, such as the plight of the Kurds, the Tamil, or the Armenians. If they are so concerned with human rights abuses and war crimes, why do they not challenge Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, the PLO-Fatah? All neighbors of Israel and not too friendly, in case they haven’t heard. The critics’ silence is deafening, and the anti-Semitism is appalling in this day and age.

Rene de la Varre

Chapel Hill

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