Our country’s growing dependence on opioids is a scourge that must be eliminated and that includes the rampant abuse within our workers compensation system. Many states are taking action on two fronts: first, slowing the overprescribing of these powerful painkillers to workers injured on the job, and second, helping those who become addicted to “kick the habit.” But from our perspective, it can’t happen soon enough.
As a workers compensation insurer, one of our two primary goals is to help injured workers get back on their feet and on the job. The other goal, however, is to keep all employees safe from injury --so part of our efforts include making sure their medical treatments are safe, effective and long-lasting. There is no question that opioids (including oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine) are useful in reducing pain, however over an extended period, patients can develop a physical dependence on them. To make matters worse, a patient’s tolerance to these medications grows and he or she ends up needing more and more of them to achieve relief. The result is often growing addiction and overdosing, both of which can create more serious medical issues.
In March of last year, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) issued a directive that requires strong prescription opioid painkillers to carry a “black box” warning about the high risk of abuse, addiction, overdose and death. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) also released guidelines to educate and caution doctors in prescribing opioids for chronic pain and to encourage them to try alternative forms of treatment and reduce over prescription. As a response to the CDC guidelines, the American Physical Therapy Association launched a #ChoosePT campaign to encourage therapy as a safer and more effective alternative to opioids.
At Patriot, we are taking steps to address the epidemic by educating our policyholders about the risks of opioid dependence and abuse and by encouraging the conservative use of opioid medication for treatable pain.
Employers can take action as well. To help evaluate your firm’s exposure to and management of opioid abuse, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you monitor the degree to which opioids are prescribed for injured employees? Do such prescriptions require prior authorization and approval?
- Do you have the means to identify situations that pose a greater risk of opioid addiction, overdose and death?
- Do you or your workers compensation insurer maintain adequate controls to identify misuse and abuse of prescription medications? What protocols are in place if misuse is identified?
*Patriot Underwriters, Inc. conducts insurance business in all of its licensed states as PUI INSURANCE AGENCY