A new Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont report shows there's been a dramatic reduction in the number of prescriptions being written for opioid pain medication in Vermont.
Blue Cross officials says new state prescribing policies, which went into effect July 1, 2017, are a major factor in the decline.
The guidelines limit how many pills may be prescribed at any one time and they encourage physicians to seek other pain management strategies whenever possible.
Previously, doctors were able to write a single prescription for a 30-day supply of opioids. Now, physicians are limited to initially prescribing an adult no more than seven pills, excluding refills.
Don George, president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, says the policy has resulted in a 20 percent decline in the number of opioid prescriptions written for Blue Cross customers in the last six months.
"I think the significance of this is that this is really strongly curtailing the use of opioids in the near term,” says George.
George says it's clear doctors are seeking other options for patients with chronic pain.
"Physicians and providers in the state are counseling their patients in a different way and are looking for alternatives to opioids as a primary source of pain management," he says.
George says the new state policies are just the beginning in dealing with the state's opioid crisis.
"Where this is a really positive and pretty big first step I think we've got a long journey ahead of us to ultimately getting our hands around eradicating the opiate addiction problem that we have in Vermont's communities,” he says.
Senate President Tim Ashe says the report marks an important turning point in the battle against opioid addiction in Vermont.
"What these numbers show is that in one regard we have bent the curve which is the number of prescriptions being signed and the number of pills being sent out the door each time a prescription is written," says Ashe.
Ashe believes the new policies will make it less likely that a person will become addicted to opioids.
"It just reduces the chances that someone unnecessarily finds him or herself taking too many pills with too much potency right out of the gates developing the problem in the first place," says Ashe.
Blue Cross says the new policies mean that several hundred thousand fewer opioid pills will be prescribed to its customers this year.
Correction 1/17/18: this post has been updated to include information pertaining to the rules around refills thanks to a helpful commenter!