Nov 22, 2016

Workers Compensation and Opioid Abuse: A $1.5 Billion Issue

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Some of the most innovative approaches for fighting painkiller addiction among employees come from an unlikely source: the workers-compensation industry.

Workplace injury is one of the main reasons doctors prescribe opioids, and dependence has become an expensive problem for those paying workers’ comp claims. Workers’ compensation payers spent $1.54 billion on opioids in 2015, or 13% of total U.S. spending on opioids, according to CompPharma LLC.

Companies that handle claims for those injuries are trying new programs that push workers toward alternative pain treatments and that make it harder to get prescriptions for potentially addictive drugs—all intended to get people back to work without getting hooked, companies say.

Another way companies can help prevent abuse is through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) where employees can seek assistance with issues affecting their work performance and / or personal lives. Many employers offer an EAP program, and should be educating employees about these and other benefits.

Most organizations are not capturing opioid problems early enough, and are catching them once the dosage is very high. Opioids must be monitored closely starting when a worker is prescribed, and even during the prescription cycle. Refills must be tracked, the worker must be educated properly, and claims should be reviewed to check whether the patient is still taking the medication.

Insurance companies cannot prevent a physician from prescribing opioids for at-risk patients, but they can urge care providers to follow a plan for alternate therapies and can refuse to authorize payment for a painkiller prescription, depending on state law.

To some extent, the industry is trying to solve a problem it helped create. Researchers found that about 65% to 85% of injured workers received narcotic painkillers under workers comp, according to an analysis of 264,000 claims by the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

Some insurance companies are testing programs in which injured workers undergo behavioral health and other screenings to assess risk of developing long-term pain or addiction. Workers with telltale traits—such as a tendency to view situations in catastrophic terms—may be steered toward less-powerful drugs to treat pain or referred to therapists able to treat the underlying sources of pain.

The side effects of opioids on workers are significant, as they may be less alert, more susceptible to injury and negligence, and much more.

AWANE provides access to an excellent EAP program, which when used properly can save employees and employers not only lots of money, time, and productivity.

Contact us today to learn more about our employee benefits programs and our Association that since 1929 has been providing businesses in the automotive, roads, fuel, and related industries with not only best in class employee benefits solutions, but also administrative support, a voice in legislative issues, and much more.

Thanks to our friends at the Wall Street Journal for contributing to this piece.