The United States is in the middle of a national opioid epidemic causing a community crisis on many levels and Florida is one of many states that have acutely felt the impact of this challenge. In 2016, there were more than 4,700 opioid-related deaths there. Aetna has been at the forefront, working to help reverse the trend of opioid abuse across the country through our pharmacy, behavioral health and medical programs.
In Florida, for instance, Aetna has been committed to educating the community on signs and symptoms of opioid abuse. In addition to the Aetna Foundation’s $1 million grant to the Florida Alcohol Drug Abuse Association (FADA) to enhance and expand programs that address behavioral health and community support, last week Aetna presented a two-day opioid forum held at the annual Florida Association of Counties (FACA) conference. This new forum brought together industry leaders, including the executive director of the FADA, along with front-line physicians, policy makers, law enforcement officers, private industry professionals, and technology experts to talk about how to tackle this crisis locally.
“Abuse of opioid medications is happening in every county in Florida. This workshop provided a platform for leaders who are on the front lines fighting this opioid crisis, including those in emergency rooms, to join forces and share best practices,” said Dr. Daniel Knecht, MD, Vice President, Clinical Strategy & Policy, and Aetna. “We discussed strategies at the local level, resources for recovery and brainstormed new approaches for providing support to people who are in need.”
Dr. Knecht participated in a panel session alongside FADA CEO Mark Fontaine, as well as the Florida Department of Children and Families, Orange County Drug Free Office, and the Charlotte County Commissioner that examined the impact of this abuse from the user to families, and even the effect on the economy.
At Dr. Knecht’s session, panelists discussed how easy it is to get access to drugs in the United States and how cheap, synthetic heroine manufactured overseas and distributed here is the number one threat to security. Fontaine also noted the need to bridge the gap between emergency room responders and treatment facilities and how our recent $1 million Aetna Foundation grant will help.
In addition to Dr. Knecht, Aetna’s Dr. Lee Washington, a Senior Medical Director in the Plan Sponsor Insights Department, also participated in a panel discussion that focused on preventing opioid misuse and addiction.
“Research has shown that if you get a one-day prescription for an opioid, there is a 6 percent risk of becoming addicted,” Dr. Washington said during the panel. “The risk goes up to 13 percent with a one-week prescription.”
Additional topics they discussed included treating opioid abuse as a public health issue, and tools, such as text messaging, that can help kids and parents receive information about treatment options.
Overall, the forum was well received with many of the panels packed and popular among the broader 400 conference participants. In addition to Aetna’s panels, the forum covered a range of topics from how substance abuse disorders impact local citizens and the use of data-driven solutions to new prescribing requirements and ways to control the supply of opioids.
Aetna remains committed to working at the local level to reverse this national crisis. We serve more than 1.4 million members in Florida, and recently helped 14 Floridians through our Guardian Angel Program. More broadly, in Florida in 2017, the Aetna Foundation, Aetna and its employees contributed more than $2.6 million in grants, sponsorships, contributions and matching grants and Aetna employees donated 46,679 volunteer hours to nonprofits and community organizations.