Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield helps to reduce opioid use in Colorado by 15 percent among its members

DENVER--()--Prescribed opioids have dropped by 15 percent in the last year in Anthem’s individual and employer-sponsored health plans in Colorado.

Limiting coverage of opioids to seven days for those starting on opioids, requiring provider prior authorization and directing those most at risk for opioid use disorder to one pharmacy have all been a factor in reducing opioid prescriptions. The primary goal of the quantity limits was to prevent inadvertent addiction and opioid use disorder, and to ensure clinically appropriate use consistent with Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Colorado contributed significantly to its parent company meeting a national goal to reduce opioids filled at the pharmacy by 30 percent since the opioid prescription peak in 2012.

“As a health insurer, we have a responsibility to do what we can to address this health epidemic and we are committed to making a significant difference to our members,” said Elizabeth Kraft, M.D., medical director for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Colorado. “We believe these changes in pharmacy policy, complemented by a broad set of strategies addressing the opioid epidemic, will help prevent, deter and more effectively treat opioid use disorder among our members.”

The opioid crisis was declared a national emergency last month. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. exceeding car crashes and guns. 1 In Colorado, opioid-related overdoses tripled from 2000-2015.

“We’re hoping our policies can help prevent members from developing opioid use disorder by carefully limiting coverage on quantities for short-acting opioids and requiring prior authorization from their prescriber to ensure a clinical need for long-acting opioids,” said Dr. Kraft. “For those in MAT therapy (medication assisted treatment), we have removed prior authorization to support recovery from addiction. And as part of a holistic and integrated approach, we continue to provide access to non-pharmacological, evidence-based treatments to help our members manage chronic pain.”

We continue to explore additional ways to help ensure clinically appropriate use of opioids, and help prevent inadvertent addiction and opioid use disorder.”

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield took the following steps designed to help ensure clinically appropriate use of opioids and to proactively prevent the development of opioid use disorder:

  • For short-acting opioids, initial prescriptions are limited to seven days. Members can only receive a maximum 14 days’ supply for short-acting opioids in a 30-day period without additional authorization, consistent with CDC Guidelines. The quantity limits began rolling out last October.
  • For all long-acting opioids, prior authorization was put into place in September 2016 for initiation of therapy. Quantity limits for long-acting opioids have existed for many years, with exceptions for those have terminal or chronic illness.
  • Pharmacy Home programs exist for individual, employer-sponsored and Medicare members that can assign members to one pharmacy and/or one provider for their opioid prescriptions. The program allows doctors to better monitor access of opioids and helps ensure members are receiving counseling and mental health support.
  • Providers who receive member electronic dashboards are notified when a member is at greater risk for developing opioid use disorder – such as prescriptions from several providers or pharmacies, or when the member has prescriptions for opioids, muscle relaxants and benzodiazepines at the same time.
  • Providers are alerted of additional controlled substance use concerns and associated emergency room or urgent care use through letter, including when the member has prescriptions for both Suboxone and opioids or on persistent high doses of opioids.

The pharmacy policy changes are part of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s holistic approach to prevention, deterrence and treatment to reduce the impact of this epidemic. To help ensure members have access to comprehensive evidence-based care, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is committed to helping its affiliated health plans double the number of members who receive behavioral health services as part of medication-assisted therapy, drug and talk therapy, for opioid use disorder by 2019.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is the trade name of Rocky Mountain Hospital and Medical Service, Inc., an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. ® ANTHEM is a registered trademark of Anthem Insurance Companies, Inc. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield names and symbols are registered marks of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. Additional information about Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Colorado is available at Also, follow us on Twitter at, and on Facebook at

1 Rudd RA, Seth P, David F, Scholl L. Increases in Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2010–2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:1445–1452. DOI:


Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Colorado
Tony Felts, 317-287-6036

Release Summary

To fight an epidemic, Anthem policy changes result in a 15 percent reduction in the number of prescribed opioids in Colorado.


Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Colorado
Tony Felts, 317-287-6036