The Empire Life Insurance Co. is adding opioid management solution to its pay-direct drug benefit plans.

Alongside the coronavirus pandemic, another public-health issue has worsened during these tumultuous times. Between July and September 2020 there were 1,705 apparent opioid toxicity deaths, according to the Government of Canada. This stat represents the highest quarterly count since national surveillance began in 2016 and represents a 120 per cent increase from the same time frame in 2019 (when there were 776 opioid-related deaths), according to the government. And in all, there’s been 19,355 apparent opioid toxicity deaths between January 2016 and September 2020.  

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With this new offering, Empire Life aims to reduce exposure to opioids and educate group benefits plan members about the risks associated with chronic use of these powerful drugs, while helping address plan members’ needs, according to a press release. The opioid management solution will be available to plan members in all provinces, with the exception of Quebec.

Administered by Express Scripts Canada, the opioid management solution is designed for those who haven’t taken opioids in the past six months. Plan members first fill of a prescription is limited to no more than a seven-day supply, minimizing the exposure to opioids, said a press release. The remaining portion of the prescription is kept on file in case it’s needed. Although acute pain can usually be treated with a three-day (or fewer) supply of opioids, the average first fill is for more than 18 days, said the release. Express Scripts Canada will send automated messages to pharmacists to alert them of the first fill and to promote plan member education.

Read: As substance abuse rises amid pandemic, employers can help