Health care should be personal, and it should help us during our most vulnerable, difficult times. There are few instances when this type of support is more necessary than when people end up in the emergency room because of a problem they can’t control any more.
Unfortunately, we are seeing this scene play out more and more frequently across the country. Emergency department visits for opioid overdoses rose 30 percent in all parts of the United States from July 2016 to September 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In order to address one of the biggest public health issues of this generation, we don’t just need to do more – we need to think differently about how to solve this problem. We have to connect with people during the times that they are most receptive to help, such as after an overdose.
Aetna recently launched the Guardian Angel program, which is intended to reach our members during this critical time. As soon as we learn that a member has had an opioid-related overdose, a specially-trained case manager – a registered nurse that used to work in an addiction unit and is a certified Mental Health First Aid instructor – reaches out to educate that person on treatment options in their area. While our nurse case manager can refer the member to a local health care provider, they can also provide access to nearby social support services. More than anything else, they can serve as a lifeline for members and their families.
We are hearing stories of people starting on a road to recovery. Some examples:
- A 22-year-old woman from Colorado who had two overdoses on fentanyl-laced heroin, now attending group therapy five times a week.
- A 63-year-old woman from Ohio who has battled a painkiller addiction for more than a decade, agreeing to start treatment and connect with local health care specialists.
- A 38-year-old man from Missouri – a single father with a nine-year-old daughter – who asked our nurse case manager about starting on Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) immediately.
While these stories are encouraging, we understand that they are just a small step, and that we need to work with all parts of the health care system to address this epidemic.
Article Written by Mark T. Bertolini | Chairman and CEO | Aetna