Gold-Standard Treatment for Opioid Epidemic Available to More New Jerseyans
Research evaluating the 2017 anti-opioid law called for more medication-assisted treatment. Horizon BCBSNJ’s partnerships with three virtual care providers deliver care where and when it’s needed most.
By Rachel Goldberg, Director of Behavioral Health Partnerships and Product Development
The 2017 New Jersey law aimed at curbing the state’s opioid epidemic has made significant progress, but much more still needs to be done to battle a crisis that continues to take thousands of lives each year.
That’s the conclusion from a multi-phase study evaluating the law’s impact that was conducted by the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy through a $132,000 grant from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ). According to the center’s reports, the legislation contributed to reductions in opioid prescribing and increases in access to treatment.
While the Rutgers study found that the law helped remove barriers to evidence-based medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for people with substance use disorders, the state’s capacity to provide MAT remains limited. It’s estimated that only one-quarter of addiction treatment providers in New Jersey offer the approved medications, including buprenorphine/naloxone and naltrexone .
Several doctors interviewed for the study said they were not interested in providing MAT – which combines medication and behavioral therapy – “seeing this as beyond their scope of expertise [or] impossible given the structure of their practice,” according to the report.
“MAT is considered the gold-standard treatment for opioid use disorder,” said Alkesh Patel, MD, FASAM, a board-certified psychiatrist in addiction medicine and Behavioral Health Medical Director for Horizon BCBSNJ. “If we’re going to be successful in helping New Jerseyans enter and remain in long-term recovery, expanding access to MAT is essential. The fact that many health professionals, for a variety of reasons, refuse to become MAT providers is a very significant problem.”
This need has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is bringing a surge of mental health problems and substance use disorders along with soaring levels of anxiety and unemployment claims. In April alone, calls to two New Jersey mental health hotlines climbed by 37 percent that month compared to the same period last year, according to data from the state Department of Human Services.
While Horizon BCBSNJ didn’t foresee the pandemic, its leaders did realize they needed to add MAT capacity for its members. In May, Horizon BCBSNJ launched a comprehensive program to expand treatment options with three partners that all share the goal of helping members receive MAT in a way ideally suited to these challenging times.
WorkIt Health, Eleanor Health and Kaden not only provide MAT but do so virtually, so members can get the care they need safely and more conveniently. Here’s a more detailed look at these three new Horizon BCBSNJ partners:
Eleanor Health takes a whole-person approach to managing substance use, including opioids, alcohol, nicotine, and other substances, treating both the physical and mental symptoms of addiction at the same time. That’s why along with medications, Eleanor Health participants are supported by a variety of tailored services, including individual and group therapy, psychiatric services, nurse care management, and peer recovery support.
These sessions can be delivered through Eleanor Health’s clinics or via their telehealth program. Members can meet with Eleanor Health care teams online to receive all services, including medication for addiction (often referred to as MAT).
“Everyone is unique, so each person needs an individualized care plan which may include any combination of medication for addiction, other mental health needs, therapy and recovery support,” said Dr. Nzinga Harrison, Co-Founder & Chief Medical Officer of Eleanor Health. “We closely monitor our members’ progress to ensure their care plan is as effective as possible.”
According to Eleanor Health, MAT can triple the likelihood of someone sustaining long-term recovery. This treatment not only helps prevent fatal overdoses and reduce substance use but also is proven to help people stay employed, keep up with family responsibilities and improve their overall quality of life.
“We recognize that more addiction care needs to be brought to neighborhoods that have been long underserved while keeping it financially affordable,” said said Srishti Mirchandani, Co-Founder & New Jersey General Manager. “Our partnership with Horizon BCBSNJ allows us to do this in a timely way that supports recovery on a larger scale.”
WorkIt Health offers Horizon BCBSNJ members struggling with opioid use disorder ongoing buprenorphine/naloxone treatment via a Web or phone app, along with online therapy by licensed counselors. Members can take therapeutic interactive courses to support their recovery and mail in drug tests to verify that they’re keeping sober.
“Before we even started in New Jersey, there was a wait list from Horizon members because there was so much pent-up demand,” said WorkIt co-CEO and co-founder Lisa McLaughlin. In addition to its online programs, WorkIt Health currently has a clinic location in Hamilton Township in Mercer County, with plans to open additional locations throughout the state in the coming months.
McLaughlin and co-founder and co-CEO Robin McIntosh are both in long-term recovery from substance use disorder themselves. They knew the limitations of traditional recovery programs and wanted to bring their digital expertise to an area of mental health that felt like “a horse and buggy in a world of self-driving cars,” said McLaughlin.
WorkIt Health’s outcomes are showing that this digital model may indeed be superior. About 84 percent of WorkIt participants are engaged in the program after one month, and those in the program for six months or more are abstinent from their drug of choice 90 percent of the time.
“Our adherence rates beat those of traditional treatment by 60 percent, for one-tenth of the cost,” said McLaughlin.
Kaden’s Virtual Medication-Assisted Treatment (vMAT) platform may use cutting-edge virtual technology but it doesn’t lose sight of the very human aspect of recovery.
Each participant is assigned a Kaden Advocate, who helps with onboarding, coordinating initial appointments and managing members’ experience throughout treatment. Advocates can be reached via talk or text so members can get ongoing support and communicate with their entire health care team from anywhere using the vMAT platform.
Partnering for the future
The Rutgers report indicated that MAT prescriptions have grown in New Jersey in the past few years. To change the long-term health outcomes, however, it will take more forward-thinking providers and payers, like Horizon BCBSNJ.
“Many health plans are late adopters to using new technology, especially in this space,” said McLaughlin of WorkIt Health. “Horizon has been an innovative partner that looks to the future, knowing how to balance short-term goals with long-term gains.”
Horizon BCBBSNJ members in need of help with substance use disorder can sign up directly with any of these providers or use the Doctor/Hospital finder to locate a treatment provider.