Press release

October 23, 2017

New public opinion survey finds few safely dispose of unused medicine, most opioid users weren’t told about the potential for opioid addiction

Conclusion: Many tools in place today are underused

EAGAN, Minn. – As the nation grapples with the crisis of opioid abuse and misuse, a new survey by pharmacy benefit manager Prime Therapeutics LLC (Prime) finds many current tools aimed at combatting the crisis may be underused. 

Most survey respondents are concerned about the opioid crisis. Overall, 87 percent said addiction to prescription painkillers is a serious problem and 72 percent said it is very serious. That compares to less than half of adults who think addiction to alcohol or cigarette smoking is a serious problem. Further, half (50 percent) of adults are concerned about becoming addicted to opioids themselves if they should receive a prescription, and 28 percent say they are very concerned. To improve safety, 72 percent say medical professionals should offer alternative, non-opioid pain treatments.

The survey found 44 percent of respondents see physicians as best equipped to help solve the opioid crisis, while only 9 percent believe the government can solve the issue. Only 17 percent had spoken with a medical professional about how to safely dispose of unused medicine, while only 11 percent had a conversation about what to do in the event of an overdose. And while more than half of adults (51 percent) reported having taken opioids, just 1 in 4 opioid users had spoken with a medical professional about the potential for addiction after receiving an opioid prescription.

Regarding safe disposal, people taking opioids reported they may not know how to safely dispose of unused medications. Nearly a quarter of adults keep unused opioids instead of disposing of them, and only 27 percent of those who dispose of old medicine use a take back program to safely dispose of controlled substances. 

“As organizations come together to solve this crisis, there is opportunity to maximize tools available today and fully inform patients of the risks of controlled substances while providing access to overdose and addiction resources if needed,” said Jonathan Gavras, M.D., Prime’s chief medical officer. “The opioid crisis is claiming thousands of lives a year and everyone needs to do more to help ensure safe pain management and prevent abuse and misuse. Our survey finds perhaps there’s room for more solutions and greater diligence to help educate patients about opioids.” 

For more than a decade, Prime Therapeutics has worked to address the opioid crisis and in 2017 it launched its comprehensive Controlled Substance Management Program. Through the program’s GuidedHealth® service, Prime alerts physicians of patients who are at risk of abuse or misuse, who have used multiple pharmacies or who may be getting prescriptions from multiple prescribers. This effort has contributed to a 71 percent drop in high-risk opioid users among Prime’s commercially insured members over the past five years. 

“Physicians are on the front lines of this crisis, but they may not have the information they need to identify which patients are at greater risk of abuse or may be misusing their controlled substances,” said Dr. Gavras. “Through our GuidedHealth program, we proactively reach out to prescribers to alert them to potential concerns, enabling them to guide their patients to safer doses, alternative pain treatments, or other support sooner. More efforts like this – that prevent overuse and promote safe disposal – are also needed.”

Recently, Prime also announced that it joined forces with Walgreens, and several other health organizations, to expand access to safe medication disposal kiosks in Walgreens stores. The campaign, announced Oct. 4, will add disposal kiosks to an additional 900 stores in areas most challenged by the opioid epidemic. The kiosks are already located in 600 locations in 45 states and the District of Columbia. The organizations hope to collect 300 tons of unwanted medication over the next two years. 

The online survey of 1,014 U.S. adults age 18 and older was conducted August 28-30, 2017 by KRC Research. The sample was drawn randomly from a large national consumer panel. Data was weighted to reflect the demographic composition of the United States per the 2010 U.S. Census.

About Prime Therapeutics

Prime Therapeutics LLC (Prime) helps people get the medicine they need to feel better and live well. Prime manages pharmacy benefits for health plans, employers, and government programs including Medicare and Medicaid. The company processes claims and offers clinical services for people with complex medical conditions. Prime serves more than 20 million people. It is collectively owned by 18 Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans, subsidiaries or affiliates of those plans.

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Karen Lyons
Director, Corporate Communications
612.777.5742 |