Cigna reports 12 percent cut in opioid use among U.S. customers

(Reuters) - As the epidemic of opioid abuse continues to take its toll on the U.S. healthcare system, health insurer Cigna Corp on Thursday reported a nearly 12 percent drop prescription opioid use among its customers in the past twelve months.

The abuse of opioids — a class of drugs that include heroin and prescription painkillers — has long been a concern.

U.S. regulators and lawmakers have taken a number of steps to control the supply and use of opioids, but the healthcare system is struggling to cope with the rising number of addicts.

Since 1999, the number of prescription opioids sold in the United States has nearly quadrupled, and each day, 91 Americans succumb to opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recently called the crisis “a public health emergency on the order of Ebola and Zika.”

Last May, Cigna pledged to cut its customers’ prescriptions for opioid treatments by 25 percent by 2019, as part of its effort to arrest the wave of abuse.

Cigna also sends doctors information from its own claims databases to detect opioid use patterns that suggest possible misuse by individuals and alerts physicians if their prescription patterns are not consistent with CDC guidelines.

In October, the company also discontinued its policy of requiring doctors to seek authorization before treating opioid addicts, a process that had led to significant delays in securing access to treatment.

Express Scripts Holding Co, the largest U.S. prescription benefit manager, on Wednesday issued a report that detailed encouraging prescription drug trends for injured workers.

The report said spending on prescription opioids fell 13.4 percent in 2016, dropping for the sixth year in a row.

Reporting by Natalie Grover in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza