The data comes from the national Blue Cross Blue Shield network's report, "The Opioid Epidemic in America: An Update."
In a press release, Dr. Martin Lustick, Excellus's Corporate Medical Director, says the report "is helpful in measuring the progress made in addressing the opioid crisis." New York's health care providers are "making great strides in promoting the safe and appropriate prescription of opioids," he says.
In 2017, 71 percent of Excellus subscribers who received and filled opioid prescriptions had initial dosages and durations that were in line with guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control. In the Rochester market, 66 percent of the prescriptions met CDC guidelines, well below the state average. The CDC made major updates to the guidelines in 2016 in response to a growing opioid abuse problem in the US.
Excellus also tracked 4.5 opioid use disorder diagnoses per 1,000 subscribers in 2017, which is lower than the statewide average of 5 per 1,000 and the national average of 5.9 per 1,000.
The figures in the report sound good, and they are, to a point. But the assessment doesn't give a complete picture of the ongoing opioid epidemic. It's one insurance company — a big one, but still — offering data on some very specific things.
It attributes the New York decline in opioid prescriptions to some specific state policies, such as the I-STOP electronic prescription monitoring system, which was established though legislation in 2012. Excellus's Lustick also credits the statewide decline in opioid prescriptions to prescribing requirements the state implemented in 2016, requiring initial prescription fills to comply with the CDC guidelines. The insurer recently enacted its own requirements meant to reinforce state policies, the press release says.
But other data for Monroe County are bleaker. The Medical Examiner's Office recently released opioid overdose data for 2017 and the region recorded its highest number of overdose deaths ever. The office reported that 287 people died from opioid overdoses in Monroe, Allegany, Chemung, Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans, Steuben, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates counties. There were 206 overdose deaths in 2016, compared to 11 in 2011.
And it's worth noting that at least for the fatal overdoses, street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl — especially fentanyl — are responsible.