Opioid crisis worsens during pandemic1. Pharmacist Alex Carducci explains how your plan helps protect you and your members.

January 18, 2022

For business owners, plan administrators, and sponsors

News headlines continue to focus on COVID-19 as variants and case surges continue to cause concern. The opioid crisis may be getting less coverage, but the ongoing public health crisis is worsening during the pandemic, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada1.

The agency reports that there have been nearly 7,000 apparent opioid toxicity deaths in Canada during the first year of the pandemic1. That represents an 88% increase from the year prior to the pandemic, according to the agency1.

Curbing this crisis will take efforts from across our society, including benefits providers like Manulife.

Alex Carducci, pharmacist and product director for Manulife Pharmacy Benefits, explains how Manulife is focusing their efforts.

“Manulife has been closely monitoring opioid utilization since 2010 and we have an audit management tool that reviews opioid prescriptions for potential high-risk use,” Carducci says. “But we still wanted to take a more proactive approach to controlling prescription opioid use in new users and reduce the chances of continued use.”

He says Manulife’s opioid management program can help members new to opioids by starting them with a short-term supply.

“Long-term opioid use can often begin with the treatment of acute pain. When opioid use is indicated in acute pain, shorter term therapy at low doses is best practice2,” Carducci says. “This program has helped reinforce that, and we've seen the benefit in reducing days’ supply dispensed in opioid naïve members3, with the majority of members forgoing additional opioid fills.”

And he says the program has shown how effective this approach is since Manulife implemented it in 2018.

“On average, opioid naïve members3 submitted for an 18-day supply. Our Opioid Management Program helped reduce that initial supply by an average of 11 days,” Carducci says. “Of the members who had their initial supply limited, 91% did not go back to the pharmacy for an additional fill - likely meaning they didn't need those extra opioids.4

Many members are likely being prescribed more opioids than they need4.

18 days
average initial day's supply submitted for an opioid-naïve plan member

11 days
reduction of initial day's supply through the program

impacted plan members did not return for the balance of their prescription

Carducci says this helps protect your members and our communities.

“We hope this program means fewer unused opioids lingering in households where they potentially pose a safety risk to other family members and our communities,” Carducci says. “And if this program can limit unnecessary opioid use, we’ve done our small part in impacting this public health crisis.”

Carducci stresses that the program is focused on members who are using opioids for the first time or haven’t had an opioid prescription for six months.

“We understand certain members with severe pain and cancer pain can have benefit from opioids when used in a controlled and monitored way and we didn't want to impact them,” Carducci says.

Additional enhancements to the Opioid Management Program are coming in 2022 that will place additional controls around high-risk opioid use.

You can find more details on our Opioid Management program page and you can contact your Manulife representative with any questions.

The information in this article is not to be relied upon as medical or pharmaceutical advice for specific situations.

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