As the opioid crisis continues to grip our country—even escalating so far as to be declared a public health emergency—more precautions are being taken to stop the process of addiction before it can take hold. Within the workers’ comp space, what can be done both prior to and during an employee’s treatment plan to prevent potential addiction?

Step 1: Educate Employees (and Employers)

Knowledge is power, and in the case of opioids, it can have the power to save lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 130 Americans die of opioid overdoses every single day. And with injured workers often prescribed these highly addictive pills as a part of their treatment plans, it is essential for workers’ comp providers to educate employees about the dangers before injuries occur.

Studies have linked injured workers given high dosage opioid prescriptions to significantly longer leaves of absence from work—as much as 3x longer than those with comparable injuries on lower dosages of opioids.

Alongside conversations about necessary safety precautions or potential worksite hazards, prescription drug safety should be a primary point of discussion within workplace safety programs. Consider this: opioid use can decrease reaction time, simultaneously increasing risks for on-the-job accidents and potentially perpetuating the opioid use cycle.

Additionally, it is essential for employers to be aware of the tendency for workers’ comp cases involving opioids to drive up claims costs, which could negatively impact their experience mod and subsequent renewal rates.

Step 2: Aim for Accountability

Workers’ compensation providers have to work closely with many different parties in order to achieve the best outcomes for both employers and employees. For issues dealing with opioids, this could mean connecting with public safety officials, healthcare providers and especially Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs).

Here are some questions that should be asked in regards to opioids and workers’ comp:

For Public Safety Officials

  • Is there a prescription monitoring program currently in place?
  • If so, where can the most recent data be accessed?

For Healthcare Providers

  • What procedures are in place to ensure that a patient is not “doctor-shopping” and receiving multiple prescriptions for opioids?
  • How often will the patient be evaluated for necessity of an opioid prescription?

For Pharmacy Benefit Managers

  • Is a closed formulary in use to ensure that opioid prescriptions require prior approval?
  • What steps are taken if potential opioid addiction or abuse is suspected?

Step 3: Advocate for Alternative Treatments

Opioids were originally prescribed en masse because they effectively alleviate pain, but that does not mean they are the only feasible option. While many pharmaceutical companies have been tasked with creating alternative, less addictive drugs for such a purpose, treatments including physical therapy, therapeutic massage and even acupuncture have proven to be effective pain remedies for some people. Another emerging solution that has been adopted in several states (Alabama is not currently one of them) is prescribing medical marijuana in place of opioids to treat pain.

Could Medical Marijuana Be a Viable Solution to the Opioid Crisis?

Even if opioids are the only viable treatment solution, advocating for minimal doses and shorter durations for prescriptions can decrease risk of dependence and other detrimental outcomes. In addition, championing the use of opioid medications in formulations that discourage the improper use of the drug, known as abuse-deterrent formulations (ADF), can prevent patients from ingesting their prescriptions in an unsafe way.

When it comes to opioids and workers’ comp, staying on top of all the available information is critical to success. Whether in the education, accountability or advocacy step in addressing opioid addiction before it begins, you can count on THE FUND to deliver the latest news, insights and strategies to combat this ongoing crisis head on.

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Written by: Loren Traylor, Director of Program Development at THE FUND

Sources consulted: