UnitedHealthcare Updates Policies to Reduce Potential Opioid Misuse

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Noting that oral health professionals write 12% of all opioid prescriptions, including 45% of all opioid prescriptions for adolescents, UnitedHealthcare is launching oral health strategies designed to confront the opioid epidemic, which causes more than 130 overdoses in the United States each day. These strategies will include:

  • Pharmacy policy: All first-time opioid prescriptions written by dental health professionals for people age 19 and under are now capped at three days and fewer than 50 morphine milligram equivalents per day, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among the first dental plans to take this step for plan participants age 19 and under, the company says, the policy helps limit access to often unnecessarily large prescriptions and helps facilitate patient engagement to reduce the risk of misuse.
  • Dental plan participants: All UnitedHealthcare dental plan participants with dependents ages 16 to 22 will receive information by mail about the risks associated with opioids, specifically in connection to wisdom teeth extractions. Since 70% of wisdom teeth extractions for people ages 16 to 22 result in at least one opioid prescription, the company says, it believes providing this information will help parents and young people better identify pain management alternatives and strategies to manage the frequency of use, dosage, and proper disposal of unused opioids.
  • Dental plan professionals: Dental health professionals identified as among the top 10% of the highest opioid prescribers in UnitedHealthcare’s network as measured by the number of days per supply and/or morphine milligram equivalents per day received information about their status last year. Following UnitedHealthcare’s outreach, prescribing patterns improved by 17%, the company reports. UnitedHealthcare has now expanded this informational campaign to include network dental health professionals that are in the top 20% of the highest prescribers in its network.
  • Public service announcements (PSAs): Television and radio PSAs are now airing across the country in collaboration with Shatterproof, a national nonprofit confronting the opioid epidemic, to help parents and health professionals understand the connection between oral health and the opioid epidemic.

“Oral health is an important facet in the fight against the opioid epidemic and in helping reduce the misuse of these drugs, which is why UnitedHealthcare has introduced these programs,” said Tom Wiffler, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Specialty Benefits. “Working together, we can help address this important national public health issue.”

The economic cost of the opioid epidemic exceeds $500 billion annually, according to the Council of Economic Advisors. UnitedHealthcare says it also is collaborating with healthcare providers and communities and using data and analytics to prevent opioid misuse and addiction, tailor ways to treat people who are addicted, and support long-term recovery.

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