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Fighting the opioid crisis with care in the community

Natural beauty and diverse communities give Arizona a rich culture and history. Yet the wide-open spaces and rugged landscapes can also mean serious gaps in access to essential health services and other health challenges that can’t be addressed with a one-size-fits-all solution.

The opioid epidemic, for example, has hit Arizona hard. Opioid overdoses in the state have increased 76 percent since 2013, with more than 5,000 suspected deaths from overdoses reported since 2017.

Inspired by the crisis in its own backyard, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) launched Mobilize AZ in 2018, investing $10 million over three years to support prevention, treatment and recovery. The public health movement embraces individuals, health care professionals, community partners and local organizations, providing information, resources and support. Through the Mobilize AZ grant program BCBSAZ has granted $2.3 million to local organizations across the state to amplify efforts in fighting substance use disorder.

"Our vision in launching Mobilize AZ was to bring together medical professionals, insurers, government and the community to turn the tide against substance misuse,” said Pam Kehaly, president and CEO of BCBSAZ. “We’ve committed to ensuring we’re acting on that by working in collaboration to turn ideas into impact — not just for our members, but for all Arizonans.” 

Increasing access and building capacity 

By joining forces with other organizations, public and private, Mobilize AZ is able to do more than what any one organization could alone. For example, Mobilize AZ, in partnership with the Crisis Response Network and its subsidiary, Centerpoint for Hope, launched a mobile medication assisted treatment (MAT) clinic in April 2019. The free clinic travels statewide, visiting both urban and rural areas to bring resources to people struggling with opioid and substance misuse.

The mobile clinic provides a variety of services to deliver individualized support, promote recovery and reduce overdoses. Visitors can receive education, harm reduction support (e.g., Naloxone, fentanyl test kits), screenings for Hepatitis C or HIV, peer support and a transfer to a local provider for MAT.

What BCBSAZ is finding is that going beyond traditional brick-and-mortar treatment settings—meeting people where they are—is increasing access. Through Mobilize AZ, the company has also built capacity for MAT prescribing, a proven modality in treating opioid use disorder, in the state.

Through a Mobilize AZ statewide incentive campaign, Arizona gained 618 newly MAT-certified providers. Each can prescribe for 30 patients in the first year, which opened 18,540 more treatment spots.

Mobilize AZ is now working on several fronts to connect providers with education, resources, tools and support as a way to dispel stigma, overcome objections and increase MAT prescribing.

Addressing additional concerns to inspire health

While initially launched to fight the opioid epidemic, Mobilize AZ quickly expanded its focus to address diabetes and mental health, both of which were identified as health priorities in the 2019 Arizona State Health Assessment.

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