Insurance data show drop in opioid prescriptions by dentists

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Integrated dental and pharmacy data can reduce the number of opioid prescriptions, according to a presentation on June 21 at the 2019 International Association for Dental Research (IADR) meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Researchers from Cigna examined the number of prescriptions written by in-network general and specialty dentists for opioids between the first quarter of 2015 through the second quarter of 2018. They reported that prescribed milligram morphine equivalence (MME) was reduced by 18% and that the number of days opioids were supplied was reduced by 10%. Milligram morphine equivalence is a value assigned to opioids to represent their relative potencies.

"The reduction in opioid prescriptions among our provider network demonstrates how dental providers are embracing recommendations for reducing opioid misuse," presenting researcher David Hamlin, DMD, the regional dental director for Cigna, told

Reducing the number of opioid pain medications prescribed requires a multifaceted approach. Researchers working for Cigna Insurance wanted to develop and use analytics-based tools to examine integrated health information to find out more about opioid and other prescribing patterns of network dental providers.

They used internal data to identify opioid prescriptions among Cigna pharmacy and dental bundled populations and by the company's dental network providers from the first quarter of 2015 through the second quarter of 2018.

Both general and specialist dentists reduced the days supplied of a prescription and the milligram morphine equivalent over the study period:

  • General dentists reduced their MME by 12% and the number of days of opioids supplied by 9%.
  • Specialist dentists reduced their MME by 19% and the number of days of opioids supplied by 10%.

The data also helped identify specific practitioners whose prescriptions were considered outliers compared with the overall data population. This allows for further education and communication to these practitioners about prescription patterns, the researchers noted.

The study results showed the power of integrated pharmacy and dental data to help understand patterns of opioid prescriptions among dental providers, according to Dr. Hamlin.

"Through integrated data, we can identify opportunities to intervene early and improve treatment. With these insights, we are able to provide greater education to our stakeholders to support dental providers and our customers in new ways," he wrote.

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