Tag Archives: painkillers

Defending the Right to Bear…Toilet Lids

You would think a judge would know better. But then again, because he was also the local cemetery sexton, perhaps he was too busy to educate himself on the finer points of law regarding workers’ compensation fraud.

A former Seneca County village judge has been convicted of falsely claiming two men attacked him outside his courtroom two years ago. A jury found him guilty of insurance fraud, falsifying business records, defrauding the government and falsely reporting an incident.

The weapon he claimed to have been assaulted with? That would be the ubiquitous and sorely-in-need-of-regulating toilet tank lid. Yes, in what was sure to whip up a frenzy with the anti-toilet crowd, another seemingly innocent victim had suffered needless injury. Personally, as a pro-toilet guy, I feel compelled to urge calm and remind everyone that toilet lids don’t kill people; people kill people. While there is no specific constitutional amendment that protects the right to bear toilets, I can state unequivocally that they are essential for both number one and number two.

I sense I have strayed from my initial point.

The judge told police in August 2013 that he was attacked from behind while locking up the Waterloo Village Court. He claimed to have been choked with something and hit over the head with a heavy object. Village police, using what can only be described as excellent police investigative techniques, found the shattered lid of a toilet tank at the scene.

sen
Photo by Seneca County District Attorney’s Office

Ultimately, however, a story emerged that made it appear our jaded jurist made up the affair as part of a nefarious scheme to obtain prescription painkillers through a workers’ compensation claim. The district attorney who prosecuted the case said, “The jury heard evidence that this was a way for him to get a lifetime supply of painkillers.”

Can’t argue with him there. If you are looking for a way to get an endless supply of top-grade narcotics, then workers’ comp is where you want to be. We give that crap away like candy at Halloween.

Perhaps the fact that this guy spent nine days on a pain pump at a Rochester hospital, while doctors and nurses testified he did not sustain any injuries whatsoever from choking, a blow to the head or any kind of assault, should have been a clue. I find myself asking, then, why the pain pump? But then I remember, “Ah, yes, this was a workers’ comp case.”

Authorities report that the judge’s medical records showed, prior to the bogus assault, he’d been on prescription painkillers for lower-back pain and for gout throughout his body. He also had 20 to 30 previous insurance claims for alleged accidents.

The judge, who is not a laywer, had no known employment other than the acting village judge position — except, of course, for his position as cemetery sexton, where he is under indictment for allegedly stealing gasoline from the village. Perhaps he needed it to pick up all those prescriptions.

Honestly, we have a guy here who most likely has an obvious addiction problem and needs help beyond the two to seven years in prison he is currently facing. My bigger concern is the Waterloo village board. Despite the police department’s determination that the judge’s assault claim was false, the board re-appointed him to another term as acting village judge. Why they would do that is beyond my limited comprehension.

The lessons here are twofold. First, and most importantly, toilet lids are safe when used by responsible adults. We do not need a plethora of restrictions and regulations just because one person abused them. Second, this village judge and cemetery caretaker might be a criminal and addict, but that does not make him stupid. That designation, it would seem, is reserved for the village board, which clearly has its share of idiots.

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

Prescription Drug Abuse – Progress In Sacramento

On May 30, the California Senate passed Senate Bill 809 (DeSaulnier) unanimously. This bill has as its primary goal the continued funding of the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) in the California Department of Justice. Over the past year, considerable attention has been brought to the issue of abuse of prescription painkillers nationwide and across all benefit systems. Well-publicized research in California by the California Workers' Compensation Institute (CWCI) and multi-state analyses by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, Inc. (NCCI) and the Workers' Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) have quantified the tragic effects of over-prescribing these medications.

SB 809 seeks to do more, however, than simply develop a stable funding source for this program. The recent Senate action, while important, demonstrates that not all issues surrounding the CURES program are likely to be resolved in 2013. As a series of investigative reports done by the Los Angeles Times pointed out, participation in the CURES program by physicians is not mandatory, and there is no adequate mechanism in place to report unusual prescribing patterns by physicians to the Medical Board of California. While the funding legislation for CURES will address the latter problem, there is still no requirement that prescribers access the database before prescribing a Schedule II – IV controlled substance. However, all prescribers and dispensers will be required to register with the CURES system, which in and of itself is an important development for the Department of Justice and the Medical Board in their efforts to identify and investigate abusive prescription patterns and to combat diversion of the medications for illicit purposes.

Also, stripped from the bill was a tax on manufacturers of controlled substances that would have been used for enhanced law enforcement capabilities throughout the state. This was a critical development that policy makers still need to address, either in this legislation or through the budget process.

Even though a targeted tax on manufacturers is not palatable to the Legislature, the need to fund better enforcement of the laws governing illicit sales of prescription drugs remains a high priority. The funding in the current bill will allow the CURES program to be maintained and improved, but law enforcement will still not have what it needs to investigate physicians and pharmacists who are violating the law and bring them to justice.

While California's workers' compensation system does not have the same level of protections against prescription drug abuse as other state workers' compensation systems, there are resources at our disposal to limit the danger of these medications.

The Medical Treatment Utilization Schedule, utilization review, and Independent Medical Review (IMR) recently added by Senate Bill 863 will assist payers in their effort to curb overutilization of these medications while still addressing the very real clinical need for relief from acute pain and management of chronic pain resulting from an occupational injury. The Division of Workers' Compensation is expected to release new guidelines on pain management later this year that should further assist in this process. And the workers' compensation system, like all other healthcare financing programs, will benefit from the enactment of SB 809. It's a good start, but we are a long way away from declaring this problem solved.

The abuse of high powered prescription pain medication is a public health crisis with workers' compensation implications. The path to a solution requires the active participation of the medical and pharmacy communities, drug manufacturers, law enforcement, medical benefit payers — whether public programs, private group health plans or workers' compensation insurers and self-insured employers — and state and federal agencies and boards overseeing the development and use of these medications.

Progress is being made, but more work needs to be done. The goal is not simply for payers to be better able to say “no”. The goal is also not simply being able to avoid the costs of these medications and the complications their abuse creates and have those costs be borne somewhere else. The goal is delivering the highest quality treatment for an injured worker. A back injury, for example, doesn't automatically require surgery in all circumstances any more than it requires an injured worker to face the prospect of drug dependency.

If we use the tools at our disposal compassionately and intelligently and if we continue to press policy makers and regulators to take all steps necessary to protect patients from the improper use of these medications, then we will be able to measure success in more than dollars saved. If Governor Brown gets SB 809 on his desk and signs it, it will become effective immediately. That's a good first step, but there will still be much work to do.

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