Tennessee’s largest health insurance provider has just announced that it will no longer pay for OxyContin. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee is the latest health insurance company to drop the drug, following a similar move from Cigna and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida last year. The company will, instead, be covering opioid painkillers that have less risk of diversion and abuse. Once the most dominant prescription opioid on the market, OxyContin was introduced in 1996 and underwent a reformulation in 2010, which maker Purdue Pharma said would decrease the risk of abuse and provide a safe and effective means of managing severe types of pain. Now eight years and thousands of overdoses later, more and more healthcare entities are pulling away from the drug.
The decision by BCBS of Tennessee to stop covering OxyContin is only the latest in a series of OxyContin-related headaches for Purdue. The company has been beset with immense legal trouble as they face dozens of lawsuits due to what plaintiffs call high-pressure sales tactics and deceptive marketing practices, which they say have contributed to the American opioid crisis. For their own part, Purdue has speculated that BCBS of Tennessee’s decision is financially motivated and have added that no drug is abuse-proof. The company says the recent decision by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee limits prescribers’ options to help address the opioid crisis.
The latest long-acting opioids that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee is going to start covering — Xtampza and Morphabond — are harder to misuse, according to the company and some pharmaceutical experts. It remains to be seen whether other insurance companies will follow suit and move away from the OxyContin formulary. The move has the support of many physicians in Tennessee who have longed complained about the administrative roadblocks associated with prescribing the drug.