Tag Archives: morphine

Opioids: A Stumbling Block to WC Outcomes

On a weekly if not daily basis, there are media reports about the growing impacts of addiction to opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 78 people a day are dying from the effects of opioid overdose. Families are being systematically destroyed by the multiplicity of effects of this increasingly pervasive problem. In 2014, there were more than 47,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S., and more than 28,000 of those deaths were caused by opioids (including heroin). The current overdose epidemic is unfortunately only one symptom of a greater problem in the U.S. Our nation consumes 80% of all opioids produced in the world, yet the American population makes up only 5% of the total world population. This strongly implies there is a societal, cultural profile in America that is unlike anywhere in the world, driving such demand and overuse.

As the national “epidemic” of opioid abuse continues to get increasing attention, it’s important to realize the effect it has on employers. Prescription opioid abuse alone cost employers more than $25 billion in 2007. Even if the injured worker never develops an opioid misuse disorder, long-term opioid use is still extremely problematic. The evidence tells us that the effectiveness of chronic opioid therapy to address pain is modest and that effect on function is minimal. In addition, when injured workers are prescribed opioids long-term, the length of the claim increases dramatically and even more so when other addictive medications like benzodiazepines (alprazolam, lorazepam) are prescribed. Perhaps the most troubling statistic of all: 60% of injured workers on opioids 90 days post-injury will still be on opioids at five years.

See also: Potential Key to Tackling Opioid Issues

Workers’ compensation stakeholders are increasing efforts to call more attention to the use of these potent pain-relieving drugs by injured workers. In the highly complex and diverse field of workers’ compensation, entities from state governments to insurers and other workers’ compensation stakeholders are stepping up to address the issues and impacts of opioid use by injured workers in varying degrees through a myriad of methods.

Most work-related injuries involve the musculoskeletal system, and doctors increasingly prescribe short- and long-term opioids to address even minor to modest pain despite broad medical recommendations against long-term use. Because of the prevalence of back injuries in the workplace, opioids are increasingly becoming the treatment of choice for what often starts as a short-term treatment, but frequently becomes long-term, with the likelihood of addiction occurring before treatment is completed.

Claims professionals should understand that there are many variations of opioids, including fentanyl; morphine; codeine; hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab); methadone; oxycodone, (Percocet, OxyContin); hydromorphone (Dilaudid) – each with different levels of potency. For example, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin. No wonder addiction is so often the result.

Paul Peak, PharmD, assistant vice president of clinical pharmacy at Sedgwick, notes that opioids act on receptors in the brain; therefore, it’s expected that certain changes will occur over time as use continues. Each one of us would realize both opioid dependence (this means withdrawal symptoms occur when the drug is stopped) and opioid tolerance (this means more drug is needed to get the same effect as use continues) if we were to take opioids consistently for weeks or months. In many cases, patients who are prescribed opioids chronically will experience a worsening of pain that is actually caused by the opioids themselves.

Because opioids have these profound effects on our brains, engaging injured workers in their own recovery is a best-claim practice, and it is critical to achieving the best outcomes. This should begin early, and a key part of the process includes encouraging workers to ask their doctors questions when they are being treated with drugs for pain. Some of these questions should include:

  • Is this prescription for pain medicine an opioid?

Doctors should educate patients on what an opioid is and how to use it safely to relieve pain.

  • What are some of the potential adverse effects of opioids?

Opioids can affect breathing and should be used with great caution in patients with respiratory issues. They most often cause moderate to severe constipation. Even short-term use can decrease sleep quality and impair one’s ability while driving.

  • Where can I safely dispose of remaining pills?

To protect others from potential misuse, any excess supply should not be saved for later use. Injured workers should be advised not to give them to friends or family, and to dispose of unused pills appropriately. States often provide disposal options/locations for opioids to reduce the chance of leftovers getting into the hands of unintended users. In addition, CDC guidelines now recommend patients are only given a three-day or seven-day supply of opioids, and some states are now putting laws in place following this recommendation.

  • Am I at risk for abuse?

Providers can use risk assessments to help determine those people at greatest risk for abusing opioids if prescribed. Peak notes that opioids do have some benefit in the acute phase post-injury, say within four to six weeks after injury. However, when improvement doesn’t occur in this time frame, continuing use of opioids is not appropriate, as addiction becomes increasingly assured.

These are among the key questions for treating physicians that injured workers should ask. While engagement is a vital part of patient accountability, physician education is even more critical. Peak explains that more is expected of doctors because they are providing the care. Patients and physicians working together in a close relationship is key.

Injured workers and family members should talk to the treating physician immediately if they see signs of addiction or dependence. There are some possible warning signs of addiction, such as craving the pain pills without pain or when pain is less severe, requesting early refills or stockpiling medication, taking more pills at one time or taking them more often than prescribed, or going to multiple prescribers for opioids or other controlled substances. Early detection can help stop the destructive cycle of addiction before it becomes too powerful to resist. Injured workers can also contact an addiction counseling organization.

A note of caution for all whose accountabilities touch this area of treatment – terminating prescription opioids “cold turkey” can be dangerous and even fatal. Throughout the life of the claim and at the end of the day for injured workers using opioids, the relationship with their doctors will be the primary factor in determining how the treatment will end and the outcome that is achieved.

Strategies for the claims team

So where does all this leave claims professionals who want to see injured workers recover successfully and appropriately from their workplace injuries?

See also: Opioids Are the Opiates of the Masses  

Claims professionals must define a strategy for identifying and then monitoring physician prescribing patterns and the specific use patterns in each case. Some of the tactics that should be considered include:

  • Leveraging pharmacy utilization review services
  • Directing patients to doctors who won’t overprescribe opioids; and those who use prescription drug monitoring programs and tools, which are available in most states
  • Engaging nurse case managers early and regularly; their involvement and intervention can help deter addiction; nurses can advocate for other more clinically appropriate options and advocate for best practices including risk assessments, opioid contracts, pill counts and random drug screens
  • Ensuring that injured workers are getting prescriptions through pharmacy benefit management networks
  • Leveraging fraud and investigative resources that are often useful in uncovering underlying, unrelated patterns of behavior that would indicate a propensity for opioid abuse
  • Considering the cost of opioids versus alternatives; while many alternate treatments are more expensive on the front end, certain drugs may be much more expensive in the long term, especially if they lead to addiction
  • Addressing the opioid issue well before case settlement; as with most longer-term open claims scenarios, those with opioid use will only produce worse outcomes and get more expensive over time without appropriate early interventions

Continued vigilance by claims professionals can enable and facilitate a better result at closure and avoid a lot of potential pain for the injured worker along the recovery path.

If It Walks Like a Duck, Talks Like a Duck…

Everyone is talking about the dangers of “opioid addiction.” It’s been a topic of conversation among pain management specialists, chiropractors and other healthcare providers for years, but constant news coverage of “opioids” has made it water-cooler talk. Thanks to the media, we’re all experts on the issue.

But here’s the thing: the media – and the public – are missing the point entirely. Even the expression “opioid addiction” is completely off the mark. Because we’re not talking about “opioids” – we’re talking about addiction to heroin derivatives.

“Opioid” is a much safer word than heroin – not nearly as hair-raising or dangerous. But using the word “opioid” is like putting icing on a mud pie – it’s a cover-up at best. And when you make the connection that opioids are actually heroin derivatives, you understand why the addiction has become an epidemic in this country.

The problem, though, is much more sinister than we realize. For one, patients now expect their doctors to prescribe morphine or oxycodone for pain management. Second, there’s money to be made in “opioid addiction.”

See also: Opioids Are the Opiates of the Masses  

As reported in Risk & Insurance, a new study finds that a majority of patients still believe opioids are the most effective remedy for pain. In fact, a full two-thirds of physicians surveyed said their patients expect them to prescribe drugs. And in spite of the highly addictive nature of these drugs, doctors are still influenced by their patients’ expectations.

It gets worse. Despite evidence that oxycodone and morphine are not the most effective medications for pain relief, almost all of the physicians who were surveyed – 98 percent of them – prescribe some form of opioids for pain control. What’s more, the National Safety Council reports that 99 percent of the providers prescribe opioids for longer than the three-day course of treatment the Centers for Disease Control recommends.

Here’s the icing on this mud pie: nearly 90 percent of physicians say they find it difficult to refer patients to treatment for drug abuse or addiction, even when it’s clear their patients need help. It’s a vicious cycle with no easy solution.

Like almost everything in healthcare, we’re overlooking the most important part of the story.

The same doctor who prescribes opioids that lead to addiction can make his best money on the mandatory drug/toxicology testing he performs every month. Many good doctors recognize this as a conflict of interest – they also see that their patients are requiring higher and higher doses to feed their additions – and they intervene in the best interests of their patients. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other physicians who aren’t concerned about scruples. They are perfectly willing to pick up where others leave off. It has become a lucrative, albeit perverse, business model today.

I wish that were the end of it, but we’ve only scratched the surface. The story gets much worse from here. When patients no longer can afford opioids and drug testing (which can cost them $4,000-$10,000 each year), many have resorted to selling a couple of pills on the street in order to cover their costs. In essence, decent, respectable people become law-breaking drug dealers. Some people don’t want to sell their prescription drugs, but still must feed their addiction. Broke and desperate, they buy a cheap, street version of their opioid. This is called heroin.

It’s a trap, and it’s snaring people who never realized they were abusing heroin derivatives. They believed they were treating their pain with safe, physician-recommended oxycodone or morphine. They believe it was their best option for managing their symptoms.

Heroin derivatives are ruining the lives of good, hardworking people across the country. In recent months, I saw the horror firsthand when heroin overdoses stole the lives of two young men in my community – men with their whole lives in front of them. They weren’t your stereotypical druggies – they were addicted to pain meds.

See also: How to Help Reverse the Opioid Epidemic  

I believe addiction to heroin derivatives is far worse than anyone realizes. Someone must throw a wrench in a problem that’s wreaking havoc on families and entire communities. Here’s how Redirect Health is addressing the issue:

1. Strike “opioids” from the discourse: Never call these highly addictive prescriptions “opioids” or “pain killers.” Instead, call them “heroin derivatives,” because if it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck…

Far fewer people will want to start taking these drugs if they understand they’re a form of heroin. Simply changing the semantics will also give providers pause; they won’t be so quick to prescribe heroin derivatives.

2. Provide alternative forms of pain relief: We make it easy and affordable ($0 copays) for people to access other, safer and more effective pain management services. Our chiropractors and primary care physicians work together to help members with practical and customized virtual rehabilitation programs that don’t cost a penny out-of-pocket, don’t require them to miss work, and will provide a long-term, tenable solution to managing their pain.

It’s common sense, but not commonly done.

Understanding the Challenges in Narcotic Management

At a cost of more than $1.4 billion annually, narcotics and opioids have rapidly become one of the highest-cost therapeutic categories for workers’ compensation injuries.* They are also among the most difficult to manage. No employer wants to have injured workers in undue pain or discomfort – and narcotics do alleviate pain. However, there are serious issues to consider with regard to prescription abuse and misuse, especially for opioids such as Oxycontin and Vicodin.

How can employers help injured workers while ensuring appropriate use of narcotics and reducing unnecessary costs? Comprehensive, clinically based narcotic management programs can help.

Over the past 10 years, opioids, a type of narcotic, have become more commonly used to treat chronic to severe pain associated with workers’ compensation injuries. Known by the generic names of morphine or codeine, and now more frequently by the brand names Oxycontin and Vicodin, opioids are powerful pain relievers.

However, many of these medications were initially intended for end-stage cancer, not for common workplace injuries. While there is likely some benefit in some cases for the use of such medications to treat workers’ compensation injuries, clinicians note that those benefits are typically seen by just a small percentage of patients. There is little evidence to support their long-term or widespread use in standard workers’ compensation injuries. In fact, a study reported by the American Insurance Association found that only a minority of workers with back injuries improved their level of pain (26%) and function (16%) with the use of opioids.** What’s more, there is a high risk for abuse, dependency, and overutilization with this classification of drugs. Indeed, the strongest predictor of long-term opioid use was when it was prescribed within the first 90 days post-injury; that means that every prescription – especially the first one – must be scrutinized to ensure appropriate utilization and optimal benefit. Employers are also concerned about the cost of narcotics. While narcotic use is concentrated among a small percentage of claimants, per-claim costs for narcotics have increased more than 50% over the past decade

Key statistics

  • From 1997 to 2007, the milligram per person use of prescription opioids in the U.S. increased from 74 milligrams to 369 milligrams – that’s an increase of 400%.
  • In 2000, retail pharmacies dispensed 174 million prescriptions for opioids; by 2009, 257 million prescriptions were dispensed – an increase of more than 40%.
  • Opioid overdoses, once almost always because of heroin use, are now increasing because of abuse of prescription painkillers.

White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

Managing narcotics is not about removing viable medications for mitigating pain from the therapies available to providers – it is about ensuring the best possible medications for workers’ compensation injuries are used.

As a result, claims examiners should be trained to look for red flags, such as:

  • Higher-than-normal physician dispensing.
  • Lower-than-average generic dispensing.
  • Higher-than-average prescribing of opioids such as Fentanyl Citrate.

But prescribing medications is a complex issue – reports and percentages alone don’t tell the whole story. So, it’s crucial to look beyond simple prescribing reports to uncover additional information that could indicate why prescribers’ patterns are outside the norm. For example, use of amphetamines could indicate that a patient has a traumatic brain injury, where such medications are a standard treatment protocol.

Drugs that are not suitable for the injury type and the age of the claim need to be identified at the point-of-sale, so claims examiners or nurses are alerted before a prescription that is outside the formulary is filled at the retail pharmacy and can intercede with drug management, if needed. This is particularly useful in the acute injury stage to eliminate early narcotic use where it is not appropriate. If a narcotic is prescribed, the injured worker’s entire medical history needs to be reviewed, using both in-network and out-of-network transactions and non-occupational associated medications to evaluate actual medication use and ensure appropriate utilization.

Follow-up appointments should be required, and only a few days of treatment should be authorized initially. This helps determine whether the medication has improved pain control and function.

Another critical step to managing narcotics is to thoroughly educate employees as to the benefits, dangers, and alternatives for narcotics. The education should include:

  • Training the injured workers about their medication, adverse side effects, and alternative medication options.
  • Required screenings for risk of addiction or abuse (history of drug or alcohol abuse, or regular use of sedatives).
  • Opioid use agreement/contract with urine drug screenings and avoidance of other sources for medication, such as emergency rooms.

A number of factors should trigger a review:

  • Narcotic-class medications for the treatment of pain (Oxycontin, Demerol, etc.).
  • Use of multiple medications excessively or from multiple therapeutic classes.
  • Using medications not typical for the treatment of workers’ compensation injuries.
  • High-cost medications.
  • Receiving high doses of morphine equivalents daily for treatment of chronic pain.
  • Using three or more narcotic analgesics.
  • Receiving duplicate therapy with NSAIDs, muscle relaxants or sedatives.
  • Using both sedatives and stimulants concurrently.
  • Using compounded medications instead of commercially available products.

* “Narcotics in Workers Compensation,” NCCI Research Brief, Dec. 2009

** http://www.aiadc.org/AIAdotNET/docHandler.aspx?DocID=351901

5-Year Analysis Of Pharmacy Burglary And Robbery Experience

Background
Burglaries and robberies represent a significant expense to pharmacies in the United States. Beyond direct insurance costs, which are driven by loss experience, pharmacists experience financial, business interruption and psychological costs. Pharmacists are concerned about armed robberies, and even finding that a store has been burglarized overnight can be upsetting and cause the expenditure of thousands of dollars in an effort to prevent reoccurrence. Beyond what is covered by insurance, customers pay deductibles that can easily be exceeded as a result of criminal efforts to gain entrance. Pharmacists that are victimized face hours of dealing with police, the Drug Enforcement Administration, board of pharmacy, contractors and their insurance company. As state and national efforts increase to address the underlying problem of prescription drug diversion, pharmacists face increasing administrative and regulatory compliance costs.

When we seek methods to effectively combat the problem, it is important to understand the larger problem of prescription drug diversion and how it fuels pharmacy burglaries and robberies. Described by the Centers for Disease Control as having reached epidemic proportions in the United States, demand for prescription narcotics, coupled with a widely available supply, create an environment that is ripe for criminal activity.

  • While the U.S. represents only 4.6% of the world's population, we consume 80% of the global opioid supply.
  • Five million Americans use opioid painkillers for non-medical use.
  • We experience almost 17,000 deaths from prescription narcotic overdoses annually. In a 4 year period, that is more deaths than we experienced during the Vietnam War.
  • Morphine production was at 96 milligrams per person in 1997. By 2009, that number increased eight-fold.

The origins of the problem are complex, but are based on a cycle of over-prescribing that has occurred over the past two decades. While well intentioned, liberal prescribing coupled with aggressive marketing, incentives and even encouragement to physicians to relieve pain at all costs sparked the fire. Unchecked by adequate physician education on drug diversion and dependency, and a lack of appropriate chronic pain management protocols, demand and dependency increased. As demand increased, so did production levels, opportunities for profit and creative methods of diversion.

Pharmacy crime involves every part of the distribution chain from manufacture through wholesale, retail, and ultimately to the end user. Pharmacists have been victims of deceptive practices, prescription fraud, employee diversion, burglaries and robberies. According to the Centers for Disease Control, prescription drug diversion, measured by drug overdose deaths and pharmacy crime, is at epidemic proportions.

National And State Actions Taken To Address The Problem
Significant efforts continue to be taken at the national and state levels to combat the problem, with various degrees of success. Each of these has a direct impact on how customers conduct business. Unfortunately, most will have no short term impact on reducing the probability of pharmacy burglaries, robberies or employee diversion.

Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs — Inputting data on prescriptions written and prescriptions filled, particularly for opioid based narcotics is an effective measure for identifying doctor shoppers, abusers and other drug seekers. While the programs are in place in 49 states, most do not connect with each other. This allows a drug seeker to get a prescription in one state and have it filled in another. Use of the program varies significantly by state between being mandatory, voluntary or somewhere in between. In addition, many of the programs are set up on a “free trial” basis for 5 years. As the trial periods are expiring, funding is becoming difficult to continue the programs, notably in California and Florida. Most pharmacists support these programs; however, there has been some resistance by major chains and various state medical associations — in large part objections are based on the time it takes to enter data.

Drug Courts — Intended to allow persons committing crimes to recover, many of these courts eliminate or significantly reduce sentencing for burglars and, in some cases, robbers. This results in a significant level of resentment by pharmacists who are victims of crime.

Drug Enforcement Administration Strike Forces — In the past several years, the Drug Enforcement Administration has shifted a major portion of resources from illicit drug enforcement activity to prescription narcotics. One of the focal areas has been on monitoring the flow of narcotics to pharmacies. These efforts have resulted in sanctions and subpoenas against distributors such as Cardinal Health and Amerisource Bergen, as well as arrests of physicians and pharmacists. In some areas of the country, there are complaints of narcotic shortages as distributors restrict shipments. This pushes drug seekers to other states and areas where enforcement is not as aggressive.

Changing Prescription Patterns — Where states have increased penalties against prescribing physicians and pharmacists for filling prescriptions when they “should have known better,” some physicians have decreased or stopped writing scripts for certain narcotics and some pharmacists have pulled them from the shelves. As chronic pain treatment guidelines are implemented and physician education on drug diversion and addiction increases, we can expect tighter controls on the management of prescription narcotics.

Treatment For Abuse And Addiction — A reality in the war against prescription narcotic diversion is that the demand exists and that the long term solution requires treatment programs that take time, cost money and are much more difficult to manage than writing and filling prescriptions. Until these programs become more available and acceptable, drug seekers will continue to find ways to obtain narcotics, including committing crimes against pharmacies.

Key Findings Presented In This Report
This report covers a 5-year analysis of burglaries and robberies occurring to Pharmacists Mutual customers.

These claims impact our bottom line. Data collected comes from claims department data as well as interviews with each customer victim by our claims department over the past two years. In many cases (where requested by the customer or due to the nature of the loss), follow-up investigation is also conducted by risk management. Information obtained has been used to educate customers, underwriters and field representatives about how the crimes are committed and preventive measures that can be employed to minimize the extent of loss.

What we've learned:

  • Frequency of pharmacy crimes (81% of PMC crimes are break-ins vs. armed robberies) has been relatively flat over the past 5 years compared to policy count. While we've seen an 18% increase in crimes over the past 5 years, policy count has grown by 21%. RxPatrol, the only other national pharmacy crime database, has seen a slight decrease over the past 2 years, however, 60% of RxPatrol reports are for armed robberies, primarily to national chains, and much of this decrease may have been as a result in aggressive measures to address the robbery problem in chain stores such as Walgreens and CVS.
  • Total incurred and average costs have increased steadily over the past 5 years.
  • Almost 70% of the crimes we see are under $5,000. 50% of costs come from the 9% of claims that are in excess of $25,000.
  • In 52% of cases, criminals enter through the front door or front window. One indication is that video surveillance, while at times helpful in identifying perpetrators, does not deter crime. Some of the most expensive burglaries have been those where criminals entered through the roof. Examination of these and side wall entries indicates the approach targets areas of the pharmacy that may not be adequately protected by alarm systems, or to circumvent motion detectors.
  • In 1/3 of cases, police respond within 5 minutes. When they do, arrests result in 21% of cases. Unfortunately, most crimes take less than 2 minutes. Bottom line, if they can get in, chances are they will be successful and will get away. In areas of the country where police response times exceed 30 minutes (rural and municipalities with budget constraints), pharmacies are effectively unprotected.
  • Most state boards of pharmacy require alarms, but situations remain where alarms are not present, are not functional or are ineffective. In many cases, maintenance and testing are non-existent, and there are suspicions that alarm codes may have been compromised.
  • If a criminal wants to try and burglarize or rob a pharmacy, the pharmacy will likely incur property damage. However, the size of the loss can vary from a few hundred dollars to tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on control measures that are in place.

    What really makes a difference in keeping loss costs low?

    • A well-designed, tested and reliable alarm system. Alarm codes need to be protected and police response needs to be adequate.
    • Protecting doors and windows to slow down or eliminate the possibility of entry. If the crooks cannot gain entrance within a few minutes, they will usually leave.
    • Installing a safe. The overwhelming majority of criminals are in and out in less than 2 minutes. Locking target drugs in a sound, well-secured safe can make a significant difference in the size of the loss.
    • Having a plan and training employees on what to do if a robbery occurs. This can mean the difference between life and death.

What We've Done At Pharmacists Mutual And What We Will Be Doing In 2013

  • Over the past two years, we have met with over 15 pharmacy associations and buying groups, have published numerous white papers and articles in our semi-annual publication “Pharmacists Mutual Risk Management” and have spoken with hundreds of customers who have experienced pharmacy crime first hand.
  • We have identified vendors of security products based on our loss experience. Where possible, we have arranged discounts for PMC customers who use these services.
  • In the fourth quarter of 2012, we provided training to underwriters about pharmacy trends and tools to assist them in evaluating protection levels at pharmacies and to address specific deficiencies.
  • For 2013, we will be implementing a pharmacy security evaluation matrix. The matrix, based on probability and loss severity data, will be used to assist pharmacies in assessing risk and in underwriting evaluation.
  • We plan to continue publication and education efforts.

Pharmacy Crime Frequency

Number of Pharmacy Commercial Policies

National Data

Pharmacy Crime Total Incurred Claims Cost

Pharmacy Crime Average Incurred Claim Cost

Frequency by Size of Incurred Loss

Robbery vs. Burglary

Method of Entry

Average Cost by Method of Entry

Video Surveillance

Arrest Rates and Video Surveillance

Police Response Times

Arrest Rate by Time of Response

Alarm Notification

Alarm Response Average Cost

Alarms and Sales