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Impact of a Managed Controlled-Opioid Prescription Monitoring Program on Care Coordination
Arsenio M. Gonzalez III, PharmD, RPh; and Andrew Kolbasovsky, PsyD, MBA
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Impact of a Managed Controlled-Opioid Prescription Monitoring Program on Care Coordination

Arsenio M. Gonzalez III, PharmD, RPh; and Andrew Kolbasovsky, PsyD, MBA
Managed care organizations have the opportunity to identify potential opioid misuse and implement care coordination interventions, which can enhance safety and streamline patient pain management.
Introduction: Inappropriate opioid medication utilization has grown tremendously in recent years. Managed care organizations have the opportunity to identify potential opioid misuse and implement care coordination interventions.

Methods: This randomized controlled study evaluated the impact of providing actionable information to prescribers of members who received opioid prescriptions from 3 or more prescribers at 3 or more pharmacies in a 3-month identification period. Impact was assessed through change in number of prescribers, dispensing pharmacies,
and filled opioid prescriptions over a 1-year period following identification.

Results: Members randomly assigned to the intervention group demonstrated greater reductions in the number of prescribers (23.98%), dispensing pharmacies (16.28%), and filled opioid prescriptions (15.25%) over the 1-year period. Regression analyses identified group assignment and the number of opioid prescribers in the 3-month identification period as statistically significant predictors of reductions in the number of prescribers, pharmacies, and filled prescriptions.

Conclusions: This intervention provided action-able information to prescribers regarding member opioid utilization, in addition to available managed care resources. It resulted in significantly greater reductions in the number of prescribers, pharmacies, and prescriptions compared with a general information letter notifying prescribers of available managed care resources. Implementation of this intervention has the potential to enhance coordination of care for members potentially at risk for poor health outcomes.

(Am J Manag Care. 2012;18(9):516-524)
Managed care organizations have the opportunity to identify potential opioid misuse and implement care coordination interventions.

  • The impact of the implemented program was assessed through analysis of change in the number of prescribing physicians, dispensing pharmacies, and opioid prescriptions filled over a 1-year period following identification.

  • This study utilized a shorter identification period than previous programs implemented by other organizations.

  • The shorter time frame allows the health plan to provide prescribers with more timely information, potentially allowing them to intervene sooner to enhance safety and coordination of care.
The overwhelming majority of global opioid prescription medications are consumed by residents of the United States.1 A direct correlation exists between the increase in prescription opioid utilization over the last decade and the growing prevalence of opioid misuse.2 Coordinating efforts to improve management of pain, the most common chief complaint encountered by physicians, has been acknowledged as a national priority due to the considerable increase in prescription opioid misuse.3,4

Uncoordinated pain management leads to poor health outcomes for patients5 and increases societal cost burden.6 Opioid-related admissions to substance abuse treatment centers increased by 400% between 1996 and 2006.7,8 Emergency department visits associated with opioid use increased by over 100% between 2004 and 2008.9 Recent measures taken by the legal and medical communities are a clear response to these dramatic upward trends.6,10,11

Approximately 35 US states, in addition to several local health organizations, have implemented Prescription Monitoring Programs (PMPs).12 Many state PMPs collect controlled substance prescription claims data from dispensing pharmacies, usually on a monthly basis, and make that information available to prescribers to facilitate informed treatment decisions.13-17 These prescribers are alerted when prescription claims for a given member meet predetermined inclusion criteria, usually based on prescription claim patterns associated with doctor and/ or pharmacy shopping. These patterns can be indicators of potential misuse of prescription medication.

A standardized methodology for identifying opioid misuse based on prescription claims information has yet to be established.18 The Massachusetts PMP defines questionable controlled substance dispensing as 5 or more prescribers and pharmacies during a 12-month time frame.19 The Upper Peninsula Health Plan (UPHP), a Michigan Medicaid health maintenance organization (HMO), intervenes when members have received 3 or more prescriptions from 2 or more prescribers over a 6-month period.20 PMPs typically disseminate prescription claims information to controlled substance prescribers, as part of the intervention, via mail or a secure website. Pharmacy claims data provided to prescribers may include information related to the dispensed controlled substances, the prescribers, the member, and the dispensing pharmacies. Challenges exist with each type of notification. When information is mailed, it is difficult to determine whether the prescriber received the communication and whether the information was integrated into clinical practice. When information is available via a secure website, prescribers must access the site, an added step which often does not occur. A New York–based managed care organization (NYMCO) developed a Managed Controlled-Opioid Prescription Monitoring Program to identify and address uncoordinated treatment of pain with opioid analgesic medications. The clinical pharmacy department used its internal database to analyze adjudicated schedule II-IV opioid prescription claims quarterly between the 2008 fourth quarter and the 2010 first quarter. Approximately 980,000 members were covered under the included NYMCO line of business during this time frame and a total of 79,754 members obtained at least 1 opioid prescription using the pharmacy benefit. Members who obtained controlled opioid medications from 3 or more prescribers and 3 or more pharmacies within a 3-month time period were identified through this database. Prescription claims data was the driving force behind this initiative which integrated the skills of clinical pharmacy, behavioral health, and medical management specialists at the NYMCO to deliver comprehensive information/service resources to facilitate care coordination when a member received opioid prescriptions from multiple prescribers. The NYMCO hypothesized that use of these resources would streamline pain management and enhance care coordination and medication safety for identified members by reducing the number of prescriptions filled, the number of opioid-dispensing pharmacies, and the number of opioid prescribers utilized by the member.


Eligibility for Randomization

Eligible NYMCO members were identified using adjudicated pharmacy claims data. Members had 1 of the following types of insurance coverage: commercial (HM), Medicare Advantage Part D Plan (MR), or Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan (MP). HM and MR policies included both medical and pharmacy coverage with the health plan. MP policies included only pharmacy benefits. Members with MP policies typically had medical benefits, but these benefits were managed by another health plan.

On a quarterly basis between first quarter 2009 and first quarter 2010, members filling controlled opioid medications prescribed by 3 or more prescribers and filled at 3 or more pharmacies in a 3-month period were identified. A quarterly average of 195 members met the aforementioned criteria. First Databank therapeutic class codes (GC3) were used internally to identify prescription claims for opioid pain medicine (H3A and H3U). Reports were executed 1 week after the end of each quarter.

Upon identification, members were randomly assigned to either the intervention group (IG) or the comparison group (CG). Members identified in multiple quarterly reports remained in the group they were initially assigned to. All members included in the 12-month outcomes analysis maintained pharmacy insurance coverage throughout the study period. Prescribers who wrote opioid prescriptions for these identified members included healthcare practitioners, contracted with the NYMCO, given authorization by the Drug Enforcement Agency to prescribe controlled substances (ie, physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, dentists, etc).

Members in both the IG and CG had access to the NYMCO’s pharmacy services, including member services, the ability to fill prescriptions at a vast array of network pharmacies, access to all medications covered under the member’s pharmacy benefits, drug utilization evaluation, and safety alerts for a given prescription relayed as a result of processed claims submitted to the NYMCO by the dispensing pharmacy. Prescriptions paid for in full by the patient were not transmitted to the NYMCO for reimbursement processing and could not be accounted for because these claims were not available within the database used for this analysis.

Intervention Group

For each member in the IG, all prescribers who wrote prescriptions for controlled opioid medications during the 3-month identification period were isolated. Each prescriber was mailed a letter along with a clinical medication report (CMR). The letter informed the prescriber that the NYMCO member under his or her care had received controlled opioid medications from multiple prescribers and filled the prescriptions at multiple pharmacies. The letter discussed the importance of collaboration between prescribers of controlled opioid medications and the added safety benefits of limiting the number of pharmacies dispensing a member’s controlled opioid medications. The letter also informed the prescriber of various NYMCO resources, including contact information for the following: the clinical pharmacy department, which provided an opportunity to collaborate with a NYMCO clinical pharmacist; the behavioral health department, to arrange for mental health or substance abuse services; and the name and phone number of a certified alcohol and substance abuse counseling (CASAC) specialist, in case prescription medication abuse or dependence was suspected.

The CMR, included with the IG letter, provided each prescriber with NYMCO data for each controlled opioid prescription filled during the 3-month identification period. Data included medication name, dose, days supply, date filled, prescriber name, and phone number. The prescriber phone number was included to promote ease of collaboration between prescribers. It typically took at least 1 month from the end of the quarter for a prescriber to receive the letter and CMR. When a member was identified in multiple quarterly reports, a new letter and CMR with the corresponding opioid prescription utilization data was generated and mailed to each prescriber.

The CASAC specialist proactively reached out to each prescriber who prescribed controlled opioid medications to members identified in multiple quarters to ensure he or she received and reviewed the CMR and to discuss the case and offer any appropriate resources or assistance to the prescriber. The specialist was also available to members to discuss treatment options and provide brief screening interventions over the telephone. If a member did not have medical benefits with the NYMCO, the specialist was able to provide other resources available through the member’s prescription benefit with the NYMCO. A total of 330 phone calls were made by the CASAC specialist to these identified prescribers during the study period. Care coordination and resource dissemination was the focal point of these conversations. An average of 5 hours, out of the 35-hour work week, was spent on weekly prescriber phone calls during the months after identification. When combined with member identification and mail preparation, all activities associated with execution of the program required less than 0.5 full time equivalents (FTEs).

Comparison Group

The prescribers providing controlled opioid medications to members in the CG received a letter, but did not receive a CMR. This general information (GI) letter was not member specific; it did not indicate which members under the prescribers’ care received controlled opioid prescriptions from 3 or more prescribers and filled the prescriptions at 3 or more pharmacies in the 3-month identification period. The letter simply described rising national trends in prescription medication abuse and informed the prescriber of the same NYMCO resources provided in the letter to prescribers of members in the CG.

An average of 540 letters were mailed out quarterly to the prescribers who wrote prescriptions for all identified members (IG and CG combined) during the previous 3-month period. The pharmacist performing the pharmacy claims data analysis also prepared the letters for mailing. An average of 5 hours out of the 35-hour work week, each quarter, was spent on mail preparation. This depended on availability of staff to assist.


The outcome measures for this study assessed the following changes in controlled opioid medication utilization patterns over a 12-month period:

Change in Number of Prescribers. The number of controlled opioid medication prescribers in the 12th month following identification minus the number of prescribers providing prescriptions for controlled opioid medication in the first month following identification.

Change in Number of Dispensing Pharmacies. The number of pharmacies filling prescriptions for controlled opioid medication in the 12th month following identification minus the number of pharmacies filling prescriptions for controlled opioid medication in the first month following identification.

Change in Number of Controlled Opioid Prescriptions. The total number of prescriptions filled for controlled opioid medications in the 12th month following identification minus the total number of prescriptions filled for controlled opioid medications in the first month following identification.

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