12:49 PM

New Program Aims to Help MDs Avoid Unnecessary Opioid Prescriptions



Horizon BCBSNJ and the Partnership for a Drug-Free NJ have developed an online course that satisfies a new state-mandated continuing education requirement for all prescribers.

By Jonathan Pearson, Executive Director, The Horizon Foundation of New Jersey

Ending the opioid epidemic in New Jersey will take everyone – including doctors, community groups, patients and health insurers – working together. That’s why Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (BCBSNJ) is doing its part to help the state’s health professionals more safely prescribe opioid medications only to those who truly need them.

This June, Horizon BCBSNJ and its longtime collaborator, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey (PDFNJ), launched a one-hour education webinar for opioid prescribers. This course reviews the latest in responsible prescribing practices, alternatives to opioids for managing and treating pain, and the risks and signs of opioid abuse, addiction and diversion.

Entitled Do No Harm: Exploring Strategies for Safer Prescribing of Opioids, the webinar is specifically tailored for any health professional authorized to prescribe in New Jersey, including doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, residents and fellows, medical students, oral surgeons and dentists.

In New Jersey, a 2017 law requires all health care professionals who prescribe opioid drugs to successfully complete a one-hour continuing education course on safe prescribing as a condition for renewing their license to practice. This accredited course satisfies that requirement.

But the webinar does more than help prescribers fulfill a mandate. “The webinar gives them a better understanding of not only how this epidemic began but also their continuing role in protecting their patients from going down the path to addiction,” said Angelo M. Valente, Executive Director of PDFNJ.

Eighty percent of heroin users start out on prescription opioids – either ones they’ve been prescribed or others they’ve somehow gotten access to. In fact, after only five days of using prescription opioids, patients can start to develop drug dependency, said Valente.

Convenient access to comprehensive content

The webinar gives prescribers a comprehensive view of the epidemic, sharing perspectives from doctors, lawyers and law enforcement. That means in addition to providing information on selecting first-line alternatives for managing acute pain, the course offers insights into patients whose addictions have led to trouble with the law.

“We’ve received excellent feedback from health care providers who see this course as a very objective look at the epidemic,” said Valente. “Our only agenda is helping reverse the state’s alarming trends of opioid overdoses and deaths.”

Prescribers also appreciate the convenience of being able to take an online course on their own schedule. For the past seven years, PDFNJ has run in-person symposia on safe prescribing, serving more than 8,000 health care professionals. Today, prescribers just need to sign up online and pay a $35 administrative fee to take the course, available 24 hours a day.

Building on a successful initiative

The webinar is part of Knock Out Opioid Abuse, a two-year initiative from PDFNJ and Horizon BCBSNJ — and funded through its philanthropic arm, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey —to address the opioid epidemic through community outreach, prescriber education, parent education and a statewide awareness campaign.

“The opioid epidemic is unique because anyone at any time could need an opioid prescription. For a sports injury or car accident or minor surgery,” said Valente. “Prescribers need to be aware of the dangerous potential of these drugs so they can help save more lives.”

Valente calls the webinar the “centerpiece” of the efforts aimed at prescribers, who play a unique role in the epidemic. They’re not only responsible for helping control the number of opioids in circulation, says Valente, but also for educating patients and their families on identifying the signs and symptoms of addiction so they can get immediate help.

While there is still much work to be done to curb the number of overdoses, Horizon BCBSNJ and PDFNJ’s efforts have been paying off. As prescribers become aware of pain-control alternatives, the number of prescription opioids has fallen over the past five years, according to Valente.