June 21 (UPI) -- Health insurer Cigna said Thursday it will ramp up its fight against the opioid crisis with a new effort to cut overdoses by 25 percent in the next three years.
Cigna announced in March it had reduced opioid use by 25 percent among its patients.
Dr. Doug Nemecek, Cigna's chief medical officer for behavioral health, told The Hill that although company efforts have narrowed opioid prescribing, there's still work to do.
Cigna said in a statement it aims to cut overdoses by 25 percent by 2021. It will focus on areas where many customers live and where overdose rates are higher than average.
Cigna said it will target communities in Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia and the cities of Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
The insurer said it has expanded an existing program that uses predictive analytics to determine which customers are most likely to suffer from opioid overdose, a system that will help prompt interventions.
When insurer identifies a person at risk of an overdose, Cigna's licensed clinicians will provide educational materials, perform health assessments, identify risks for mental health and substance abuse disorders, make referrals and more.
Cigna says it will also work to develop immediate and long-term ways to make it easier for customers to access the substance abuse treatment -- including medication-assisted treatment, comprehensive pain management and enhanced support and counseling.
Nearly 64,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States in 2016; about two-thirds were linked to opioids, Cigna said.
"Behind every number, there are real people struggling along with families, employers and communities," Cigna CEO David M. Cordani said. "Our commitment to reduce drug overdoses by 25 percent is a commitment to each and every one of them."
Cigna will also ask providers to pledge to reduce opioid prescriptions and treat opioid use as a chronic condition. More than 9,000 have signed so far.
Aetna, another major U.S. insurer, pledged earlier this year to reduce inappropriate opioid prescribing to members by 50 percent by 2022.