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By David W. Anderson

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed crucial legislation this week designed to combat the growing opioid epidemic in communities across New York. And therein lies a story.

When I became president and CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, the Painkillers Kill campaign was well under way. I was cautious. I came from a for-profit health insurance model that was not community based, or focused, as ours is.

Avi and Julie Israel, who helped drive the Painkillers Kill community collaboration, came to BlueCross BlueShield to challenge us about these dangerous opiates. We listened and agreed to the urgency and value of their efforts on behalf of their late son, Michael, and others’ sons and daughters. The campaign was so successful that two-thirds of Western New Yorkers in a recent poll recalled it, and 72 percent of those stated that the information provided through the collaboration increased their awareness of the effects of painkillers. Also, six months into the campaign, 95 percent of consumers recognized that prescription painkillers are highly addictive and one-third stated correctly that painkillers are a synthetic form of heroin.

Among hundreds of groups working statewide to build awareness of this scourge are more than 50 partners from Western New York.

Consider these facts:

• Addiction is the largest preventable health problem in the United States.

• Vicodin and OxyContin are the two most misused prescription drugs.

• More people are addicted to prescribed opioids (up to 2.4 million) than to heroin and cocaine combined.

• The rate of substance dependence or abuse among young adults aged 18-25 is 21.3 percent.

• From 1995 to 2005, treatment admissions for abuse of prescription pain relievers rose more than 300 percent.

As the largest health insurer in the region, we remain committed to driving awareness and education until we have reached 100 percent of our community.

David W. Anderson is president and CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York.

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