Independence Blue Cross will implement a new restriction on the length of initial prescriptions for opioids, the health care insurer announced Tuesday.
Starting July 1, Independence will "restrict prescriptions to no more than five days for initial low dose opioids."
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A spokeswoman for Independence said the change not affect patients who currently have longer-term opioid prescriptions.
"The purpose is to help combat opioid abuse and further restrict the use and shopping around for opioids," Independence Blue Cross spokeswoman Ruth Stoolman said.
The health insurer said policy holders suffering from cancer-related pain and those in hospice will continue to be covered for longer lengths of opioid prescription use.
"This safeguard prevents multiple opioid prescriptions from being filled at different pharmacies and reduces the risk for addiction while addressing legitimate pain treatment," Independence said in a company statement. "It also reduces the risk of unused medication being diverted into the hands of unintended users."
The insurer also plans to expand coverage for methadone treatment, starting in August.
The Center for Disease Control says opioid prescriptions have quadrupled since 1999 and 183,000 fatal overdoses have occurred in that time.
On the CDC's website, the government agency provides guidelines for patients and providers. On the page for providers, the CDC recommends that "when opioids are used, prescribe the lowest possible effective dosage and start with immediate-release opioids instead of extended-release/long-acting opioids. Only provide the quantity needed for the expected duration of pain."
In April, U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, introduced federal legislation to limit painkiller prescriptions for acute pain to seven days, according to Medscape.