3 ways Optum is working to end the opioid epidemic

Opioid medications can be an essential part of treatment for those with short-term medical conditions and serious chronic or long-term conditions. Yet opioids can come with a high risk of addiction, overdose and fatality.

Every 13 minutes, someone in the United States dies from an opioid overdose.1 More than 68 percent of the 72,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid.2 And 2.1 million people in this country have been diagnosed with opioid use disorders.3

This complex epidemic is destroying lives and overwhelming our communities. It affects our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family members. In addition to the cost to human life, the opioid epidemic’s estimated economic burden is $504 billion and counting.4

That’s affecting employers as well, in terms of the health and well-being of employees, loss of productivity and rising costs. For people with employer-based health coverage, the cost of treating opioid addiction and overdose increased more than eightfold from 2004 to 2016. A little more than half of that spending is on treating enrollees’ dependent children.5 Opioid addiction is a treatable chronic medical condition that deserves ongoing attention. And employer-sponsored health plans can play an important role in preventing, treating and supporting those in recovery. Comprehensive pharmacy management programs, provider education and compassionate care are helping us turn the tide of the opioid epidemic.

Optum believes that a multifaceted, evidence-based approach offers the greatest hope to containing the opioid epidemic and helping restore families and communities. By delivering a 360-degree approach grounded in compassion and understanding, we hope to:

  • Prevent opioid misuse and addiction from developing in the first place. One key element in resolving the opioid crisis lies in prevention — by confronting opioid misuse before it occurs. Through the OptumRx® Opioid Risk Management program, we’re working to educate people about the risk of opioid use disorder and how to prevent it.
  • Guide people to evidence-based treatment. Because addiction alters brain chemistry, no one-size-fits-all treatment alone can conquer opioid use disorder. Successful recovery requires an individualized, evidence-based approach tailored to each person’s needs.
  • Support people through treatment and recovery, including care for co-occurring disorders. Opioid use disorder is a chronic medical condition with a high risk of recurrence if not properly treated over time. Local treatment and ongoing support increase the likelihood that a person will sustain recovery over a lifetime.

Turning the tide on this crisis is important for the health of individuals. It’s also important for the stability of families and our communities, business productivity and public safety.

Read our white paper to learn more about the opioid epidemic and what we can do to help stop it.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding the epidemic. https://optum.co/b7qde
Ahmad FB, Rossen LM, Spencer MR, Warner M, Sutton P. Provisional drug overdose death counts. National Center for Health Statistics. 2018. https://optum.co/laupd.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (HHS Publication No. SMA 17-5044, NSDUH Series H-52). 2017, Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://optum.co/79usa.
The Council of Economic Advisors. The underestimated cost of the opioid crisis. November 2017. https://optum.co/e3zzs.
Kaiser Family Foundation. Analysis: Cost of treating opioid addiction rose rapidly for large employers as the number of prescriptions has declined. April 5, 2018. https://optum.co/vwhba.

About the author

Opioids Blog Author
Martin Rosenzweig, MD
Chief Medical Officer, Optum Behavioral Health

Martin Rosenzweig, MD, is regional medical director for behavioral solutions at Optum, and the head of the substance use disorder treatment initiative across the behavioral health business. He received his medical degree from the University of the Witwatersrand and has been in practice for 30 years.

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