Everywhere the Opioid Epidemic Hits Hard, Horizon Is Hitting Back
The opioid epidemic doesn’t discriminate – it touches all of New Jersey’s communities. With the Knock Out Opioid Abuse initiative, Horizon BCBSNJ is raising awareness across the state to protect more families and save more lives.
To put the size of the current opioid epidemic into perspective, consider this: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford could be filled near capacity with those who died from opioid abuse in the U.S. in 2018 alone. And of those, more than 3,000 lives lost came from New Jersey – more than eight people every day.
Opioid use disorder is a disease that does not discriminate based on where a person lives, works or goes to school. It occurs in both young and old, men and women. Because this disorder affects all communities in New Jersey, Horizon BCBSNJ is working across New Jersey to help solve this growing challenge through education and awareness programs.
For a task so large, Horizon BCBSNJ has partnered with community organizations to tackle the epidemic. Among Horizon’s many collaborators is the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey (PDFNJ). Since Horizon BCBSNJ started working with PDFNJ at its founding 27 years ago, PDFNJ has developed relationships with local schools, governments, law enforcement, providers and faith-based organizations to educate local communities on drug-free initiatives.
“To tackle an epidemic as complex as opioid addiction, Horizon’s response has been far-reaching to encompass three key areas: Education and Prevention, Treatment and Recovery, and Community Outreach,” said Kevin P. Conlin, Chairman, CEO and President of Horizon BCBSNJ. “Horizon has worked closely with The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey on many projects over the years. The Partnership is recognized as a leader in this fight, and by working together, we are building on the impact each of us is making in the state to help our members and all of the communities Horizon serves.”
In 2017, Horizon BCBSNJ and the PDFNJ created the Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall Series, a program created to strengthen and focus intervention efforts. Built upon an evidence-based model and funded by The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, this project takes a three-pronged approach to raise awareness across all of the state’s communities to save more lives. “There's no more important goal or objective than to be able to engage and educate families in New Jersey about ways to help to protect their children,” said Angelo Valente, executive director of PDFNJ.
Knocking out opioids – in three rounds
The first part of Knock Out Opioid Abuse includes a series of town halls to engage New Jerseyans in a wide-open conversation about the opioid epidemic. In 2016, the U.S. Surgeon General issued Facing Addiction in America, an unprecedented report on drug and alcohol abuse that recommended town halls as an effective intervention that can drive community-level change.
Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Halls in Hudson and Burlington, NJ.
Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Halls in Hudson and Burlington, NJ.
In the first phase of the town hall series, Horizon BCBSNJ and PDFNJ conducted meetings in 21 New Jersey counties, which were attended by more than 13,000 people. Local experts – ranging from county prosecutors to state legislators to doctors – were convened to educate community members on available resources and hear from residents about their local needs and personal experiences.
These meetings have generated some illuminating insights and actionable results. From a survey of hundreds of town hall participants analyzed by Rutgers University, only 17 percent of parents reported that they felt sufficiently informed about how to prevent opioid addiction. But encouragingly, after attending one of these meetings, more than 85 percent said they intended to engage in a range of preventive activities, including sharing lessons learned, talking with kids about the risks of opioid addiction, and safely disposing opioid medications stored at home.
Beginning in March 2019, through next year, the second phase of town hall’s will be held in more targeted communities where addiction and drug overdose are the highest. Horizon BCBSNJ wants to provide the resources members need to prevent these numbers from growing and help ensure people can receive the right care at the right time to find their path to recovery.
Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall in Bergen, NJ.
The second part of Knock Out Opioid Abuse involves educating prescribers and parents. While it’s recognized that opioids are an important option to manage and treat pain, physicians who prescribe these drugs also need information on responsible prescribing practices, alternative therapies, and risks and signs of opioid abuse, addiction and diversion. In fact, to maintain their prescribing practices, doctors must now receive ongoing training on opioids, and this program will help them fulfill this requirement.
To address parents’ needs for more education, as indicated in the town hall survey, Horizon BCBSNJ is creating a resource guide to help parents of fifth-graders recognize the warning signs of opioid misuse and dependency in their children and take an active role in prevention and intervention strategies.
And finally, the third-prong of the project is ramping up a public awareness campaign. A dedicated website will live-stream town hall events and make available opioid-related information and resources. Additionally, ads on commuter trains billboards and social media platforms will not only elevate awareness of this public health crisis at a much larger scale, but also help reduce the stigma for those with this disorder.
“It's really an opportunity for people with substance use disorder to become aware that this is something that they can deal with. It's something that they should not be ashamed of. This is not a moral failing. This is a disease. And it needs to be treated like such. And they need to be able to get help and get treatment as quickly as possible,” said Valente.
Fulfilling a commitment to Horizon’s members
Expanding Knock Out Opioid Abuse is just one of the many ways Horizon BCBSNJ is helping to combat the opioid epidemic in New Jersey. Through The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, Horizon BCBSNJ focuses on education, outreach and awareness by funding local, not-for-profit organizations like Integrity House in Newark, Center for Family Services in Camden and Community in Crisis in Somerset County. And Horizon BCBSNJ continues to work with health care providers and pharmacies to set responsible guidelines for prescriptions; with hospitals and behavioral health specialists to connect patients with substance abuse problems to treatment; and with law enforcement to implement prevention best practices in the community, school and workplaces.
To end the opioid epidemic, there is much more work to be done. But we at Horizon BCBSNJ are nevertheless encouraged that our efforts are making an impact here in New Jersey. So one day, we won’t have to reflect on how large the opioid epidemic is but rather how small the problem has become.