BlueCross BlueShield Brings Hope to Western New York by partnering with “Painkillers Kill” Campaign

When their son Michael passed away, Avi and Julie Israel of Buffalo, N.Y., were distraught. Michael had suffered from an addiction to painkillers and in the depths of misery, had taken his own life. Knowing they weren’t alone in grappling with this issue and compelled to respond, the Israels decided to act. They established an organization called Save the Michaels of the World to increase public awareness, especially among parents.

With a 20 percent substance abuse rate among young adults ages 18-25, 65 percent of whom abuse painkillers, western New York has a serious problem.  

In 2013, the Israels teamed with their insurer BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York and 50 community partners to create the “Painkillers Kill” campaign. The program emphasizes community outreach and educates the public about the risks of prescription pills and supplies the medical community with resources. Providing support to families dealing with addiction-related problems, the initiative connects people with resources such as the 24-hour HOPE support hotline, counseling, group therapy sessions, residential treatment services, and a detox program. In addition, the program has engaged in a number of public education efforts such as continuing medical education for physicians, developing a middle school curriculum, production of a documentary about painkiller abuse, multi-media advertising with over $1.1 million of in-kind media, and information cards for pharmacies and doctors’ offices.

According to the program’s website, young people who are taught at home about the dangers of prescription drugs are 50 percent less likely to use them. Painkillers Kill had a significant impact, according to BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, motivating 1 in 3 consumers to take action, typically by either discussing with friends and family or discarding unused medication. In addition, BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York is using claims data to coordinate with healthcare providers through a RationalMed Alert System, which warns of possible patient misuse of opioids.

“We set out with 50 community partners to ensure that every household in western New York was educated and aware of painkiller abuse,” said Julie R. Snyder, vice president of corporate relations for BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York. “The results were promising, but we know our work is not done. The campaign raised awareness – but more importantly, it brought together key stakeholders. This type of comprehensive and coordinated approach is the only way to reverse this epidemic, which touches all pockets of our society.”  

“The growing opioid epidemic is a complex issue that is affecting communities in every state across the country,” said Kim Holland, vice president of state affairs at BCBSA. “Many Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies have programs in place that are already making a difference in their local communities.”

To learn more about the Painkillers Kill campaign, please visit