Cigna Says No to OxyContin

Most OxyContin prescriptions will no longer be covered in Cigna group health plans starting in January, the insurance giant announced.

The move is an attempt to help stem the opioid epidemic that has spread across the United States, company officials said.

"Our focus is on helping customers get the most value from their medications -- this means obtaining effective pain relief while also guarding against opioid misuse," Cigna Chief Pharmacy Officer Jon Maesner said in a statement.

Although OxyContin won't be an option for Cigna customers unless a doctor deems it "medically necessary," the company said it has signed a contract with the maker of another opioid, known as Xtampza ER.

Xtampza is "an [OxyContin] equivalent with abuse-deterrent properties," the company said. "Xtampza ER's abuse-deterrent platform allows the product to maintain its extended-release profile even when cut, crushed or chewed."

OxyContin also has abuse-deterrent properties, CNN reported, such as being more difficult to crush. One study did find that Xtampza was harder to abuse than OxyContin, but that research was conducted by Xtampza's manufacturer, Collegium Pharmaceutical, according to the news service.

One drug safety expert noted that abuse deterrence has limitations.

"People don't recognize that just because they are harder to tamper with doesn't make them any less addictive or any more effective in chronic non-cancer pain," Dr. Caleb Alexander, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness, told CNN.

Alexander added that financial factors may have played a part in Cigna's decision to drop OxyContin.

But Dr. Charles Argoff, president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine Foundation, told CNN, "We are going down a very bad slippery slope if we allow payers to only make decisions solely on financial grounds."

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