Insurers should care about the opioid crisis

The drug crisis continues to take hold in New Hampshire, with more than 400 deaths from drug overdoses in 2017.  With Congress’ recent approval of almost $23 million in funding to support efforts specifically to combat the opioid crisis in New Hampshire, I wanted to provide my thoughts as to why insurers should invest in and truly care about combatting the opioid crisis.

Dentists, physicians, oral surgeons, and general surgeons all have the authority to prescribe pain medication which is sometimes necessary to relieve the patient’s pain.  Alternatives such as over-the-counter medications (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen), are often now recommended as the best option and first-line of defense to relieve pain after surgery, etc.  Because pain thresholds vary by patient, prescription pain medication frequently goes unused and is saved by the patient “just in case” they need them, you know, someday. By doing this, patients are putting themselves, their family members, and friends at risk.

In an effort to combat this “just in case” mentality, Jim and Jeanne Moser of East Kingston formed an awareness campaign called Zero Left, after losing their son, Adam, to a fentanyl overdose in 2015.  Granite Health expanded Zero Left’s campaign in 2017, following a three-prong approach to prevent harm from opioid misuse with support from Northeast Delta Dental and our medical insurance partner in New Hampshire, Tufts Health Freedom Plan.

As a tri-state and not-for-profit organization, Northeast Delta Dental’s commitment doesn’t end in New Hampshire. We have also provided support to the Chittenden County Opioid Alliance for a collective impact approach to combat the epidemic in Vermont.  We also sponsored a safe prescribing training through the Vermont State Dental Society and we plan to support efforts in this arena through the Maine Dental Association as well.

Opioid misuse and drug addiction have negative effects on physical and mental health, all of which, from the employer perspective, can impact an employee’s ability to perform at their best.  I have spent much time with The Honorable John T. Broderick, helping to increase awareness of the signs of mental distress through The Campaign to Change Direction, and we recently hosted a forum with his colleagues at Dartmouth-Hitchcock to open the dialogue about mental health, substance abuse, and how these topics intertwine and impact the workplace.

Those who abuse heroin, opioids, or other drugs are also more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease. From Northeast Delta Dental’s perspective, we know that you cannot have good overall health without good oral health, and as a large employer in New Hampshire, we know that we cannot ignore this health crisis.  The private, public, and nonprofit sectors should continue to work together to generate positive change in this area.  Northeast Delta Dental is committed to doing our part to end the opioid crisis in New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont.

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