VHA and Cigna: Keep Veterans opioid safe and aware

Safe opioid practices


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A new partnership between the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and Cigna, a health services company, will allow them to share and create resources for safer prescribing of opioids to Veterans in pain.

There were more than 47,000 overdose deaths involving opioids in the United States in 2017. This partnership will make prescribing and using opioids safer and will add to VHA’s efforts to keep Veterans safe.

According to Dr. Laurence Meyer, chief officer of specialty care services at VHA, constant pain affects 30% of all U.S. adults. More than two million Veterans had a constant pain diagnosis in 2012. There is a 50% higher rate of reported pain, which can be treated by opioids, in Veterans than non-Veterans.

Veterans sometimes are prescribed opioids from multiple doctors inside or outside the VHA, which can be risky. If a patient is taking too many opioids from multiple sources, that person could accidentally overdose.

Veteran opioid prescriptions down 50 percent in the last five years

Dr. Meyer stated that VHA has decreased total opioid prescription use among Veterans in its care by more than 50% in the last five years. VHA has worked to provide alternatives to opioids and reduce the risk associated with their use.

He added that VHA surveys Veterans in VHA care to monitor if patients are at risk because they receive opioids from more than one source.

Opioids may be effective in some patients but are associated with risks that increase when overprescribed.

For health care providers, VHA has also made available the Opioid Safety Initiative Toolkit and has required they participate in State Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs. This partnership will add to those services. It will also ensure clinicians are safely and responsibly prescribing to Veterans.

Safe opioid use and alternatives

VHA and Cigna will share resources about opioids, such as: treatment methods, tools to decrease risk, methods to educate clinicians, and best practices. This partnership, according to Dr. Meyer, will be an “all-levels exchange of information.” VHA and Cigna will work together to educate providers about safe opioid use and alternatives to opioids.

One of VA Secretary Robert Wilkie’s priorities for VA is customer service. This is enhanced by focusing on partnerships that address challenges Veterans face, like opioid over-prescription.

“This partnership with Cigna demonstrates VA is working on improving the way health care providers approach Veterans’ opioid use,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA is steadfast in its focus on Veterans’ safety and well-being.”

Here’s more information on the Office of Community Engagement’s partnership work.

Information on Cigna’s work reducing opioid use.


Tracy Weistreich, Acting Director, VHA Office of Community EngagementTracy Weistreich is the Acting Director of VHA’s Office of Community Engagement

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