Tag Archives: prescription drug

What Physicians Say on Workers’ Comp

At the 2015 Harbor Health MPN Medical Directors Meeting, a panel discussed current issues affecting workers’ compensation. The panel consisted of:

  • Dr. Tedd Blatt (moderator)
  • Dr. Craig Uejo
  • Dr. Don Dinwoodie
  • Dr. Minh Nguyen
  • Dr. Kayvon Yadidi

Question: What are the things physicians can do or should do to improve workers comp?

  • Physicians need to assist in training their peers. There is inadequate training of occupational medicine physicians on the nuances of the workers’ compensation system. This is something other stakeholders in the system could also assist with.
  • Physicians need to be considering psycho-social issues in the treatment of patients. These can have a significant impact on claim outcomes.
  • There is not enough training for physicians on how to properly write medical reports, especially in the workers’ compensation arena.
  • It is imperative that physicians are responsive to questions from the payers. Failure to respond in a timely way to questions causes delays in reimbursement and creates animosity.

Question: How should physicians be approaching the issues of opioids, and are payers willing to consider alternatives?

  • This is something that needs to be considered from the initial visit forward. These drugs can lead to long-term issues, and prescribing them cannot be taken lightly. Too many physicians just prescribe these to make the patient happy.
  • There are inadequate detox programs to wean people off these drugs. Patients tend to bounce from one pain clinic to the next, which just continues the cycle of using these drugs.
  • Payers are often hesitant to authorize detox programs or non-pharmaceutical pain management alternatives because they view these things as experimental.
  • Physicians will soon be required to utilize CURES, the California prescription drug monitoring program, prior to prescribing opioids. This is intended to identify people who are doctor-shopping to abuse the opioids.
  • If you don’t prescribe the opioids, the patient will find someone else who does. Until there is a consistent approach to how these drugs are prescribed, this will continue to be a problem.
  • This is the greatest physician-created public health crisis in the history of the U.S. These drugs are massively overprescribed and should only be used for a very short term for post-operative care. They should never be used for long-term treatment.

Question: What do you think about utilization review? Are there things that you feel should always be subject to utilization review?

  • All surgeries should be subject to mandatory utilization review. Too many physicians are conducting unnecessary surgeries, which cause harm to their patients.
  • Compound medications and medications not usually prescribed in workers’ comp should be subject to utilization review.
  • There needs to be a level of common sense in UR. It should not be used if the recommended treatment is part of the normal course of care for an injury. Payers also are sometimes paying more for the UR review than the actual service requested costs.
  • If you have quantified that a physician is producing better outcomes for injured workers, these physicians should be subject to less utilization review.
  • The UR process needs to be more selective and focus on the outliers, not routine care. The perception from providers is that UR is being grossly overused. Physicians view this as punitive.

Question: More physicians are becoming part of larger health systems. Is this a positive change?

  • This is a positive change because the physicians have a better support structure to assist in writing reports and navigating the nuances of the workers’ compensation system.

Question: Is the Affordable Care Act going to affect workers’ compensation?

  • We will see an increased focus on outcomes, and, if a physician does not deliver superior outcomes, then payers will not refer patients to them for treatment.
  • Many of the policies under the exchanges have high deductibles and, because of this, it is likely we will continue to see pressure to push treatment into the workers’ compensation space.

Question: What changes would you recommend on the claims administrator side?

  • There needs to be more focus on better internal communication within claims organizations. Physicians end up sending reports and responding to requests multiple times because the claims organization does not have good internal communication.
  • The fee structure is affecting the number of physicians willing to treat workers’ compensation patients. Many specialists have stopped treating workers’ compensation patients because they do not feel adequately compensated for the amount of work required.

9 Key Factors for Drug Formularies

These remarks were prepared for testimony at a recent Assembly hearing in Sacramento on California’s consideration of a workers’ comp drug formulary.

Thank you for the opportunity to be part of this hearing on the potential development of a prescription drug formulary in California. My name is Mark Pew, senior vice president of PRIUM, a nationwide medication management company based in Duluth, GA, that has conducted business in California for more than 15 years and been a utilization review organization since 2009. I have followed the development of workers’ compensation drug formularies in other states since 2010 and, through observation and dialogue and corresponding deployment of services, have come to identify success criteria. I spoke on the subject at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference in November 2012 and at that time opined that California should consider a drug formulary. Since 2013, I have had several conversations with various California stakeholders to further that discussion, so I’m very pleased to see progress being made towardsthat goal.

Because I value the time of this committee hearing, I will be brief in what I consider to be important foundational tenets when constructing a drug formulary. I will forego any statistics or rationale for a drug formulary as that has already been well articulated in the bill’s analysis.

  1. A drug formulary should be about better patient clinical outcomes, not cost. My opinion is that if you do what’s right for the patient, all other stakeholders win by side effect. While much of the discussion leading up to this hearing has been about cost savings, it would be shortsighted to think that should be the criteria for success. In my opinion, true success from a drug formulary would be a decrease in disability, a decrease in addiction and dependence, an increase in return-to-work and an increase in the use of less dangerous treatment options. If the focus is on better patient clinical outcomes, there should be no stakeholder in California workers’ compensation that can argue that this isn’t a good thing.
  2. A drug formulary should rely on evidence-based medicine. Robust clinical studies that indicate what drugs should be used when, and what non-pharmacological treatment options should be tried in advance, should dictate which drugs require additional evaluation before prescribing. There are some very dangerous drugs that are generic and inexpensive, so the trigger should be what produces the best clinical outcomes in proper sequence. Step therapy, the idea that you start with the most effective, least dangerous option, is built into evidence-based medicine and should be the template for prescribers. The optimal approach to evidence-based medicine is the adoption of third-party, peer-reviewed standards that are regularly updated to reflect contemporary medical practice standards.
  3. A drug formulary should not handle new and legacy claims in the same manner. By “legacy claims,” I mean those claims that exist before the formulary rules come into effect. A patient taking his first opioid is different than a patient who has taken opioids for many years. While new claims require primarily process education for the stakeholders, there should be a remediation period for “legacy” claims to allow time for appropriate weaning and development of alternative treatment methods. Based on my observations, there should be a one- to two-year period between the rollout of a drug formulary for new claims vs. “legacy” claims. Both implementation dates should be unchangeably enforced to ensure action is taken. To be clear, any formulary that applies to new claims should also apply to legacy claims, albeit at a later date. Not applying the formulary to legacy claims would result in two different standards of care for injured workers in California depending on when the worker was injured. This is clinically inconsistent with the application of evidence-based medicine.
  4. A drug formulary will change prescribing behavior. The extra steps required for a drug that is not allowed by the formulary requires the prescriber to think through the best options as opposed to just maintaining past practice patterns (however they were developed). For example, if carisoprodol was excluded from the formulary, the prescriber either needs to validate the medical necessity through a preponderance of evidence or choose a muscle relaxant that is included (which likely means it has less dangerous side effects, has proven to be more effective for certain conditions and does not have dangerous drug-to-drug interactions). Given experience in other states, the prescriber will often choose the less dangerous drug included in the formulary, which should result in better clinical outcomes for the patient.
  5. A drug formulary should be enforced at the point-of-sale. Allowing drugs to be given to the patient and THEN deciding whether they are clinically appropriate allows the start of a potentially dangerous path to polypharmacy regimens that create more harm than good. A workers’ compensation drug formulary, just like those we see in group health plans, should be implemented at pharmacies within their point-of-sale system. The information provided to pharmacists will help them better communicate with the patient and prescriber as necessary for an option that is allowed by the drug formulary. One advantage for California is that pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and pharmacy chains already have experience with implementing a workers’ compensation formulary in other states. If California is modeled after that same process, there should be less up-front time required to develop processes for California.
  6. A drug formulary should be the result of consensus among all stakeholders. While reaching consensus takes longer, providing a seat at the table for every workers’ compensation stakeholder in a very transparent process will ensure a smoother implementation. It’s extremely important to the ultimate success of a drug formulary that everyone be part of the deliberation process. And if everyone is involved in developing the drug formulary, ultimate implementation will be more easily achieved. A point of clarification: while the process surrounding the drug formulary should be based on stakeholder consensus, the medical treatment guidelines upon which the formulary is built should NOT be based on consensus, but rather on the best contemporary medical evidence available. California stakeholders should focus negotiations on the rules governing the formulary, not on the medical principles that underpin it.
  7. A drug formulary should educate all stakeholders clearly and consistently. Clear (and free) education needs to be provided to all prescribers, all attorneys, all payers, all employers and preferably all injured workers as to how the drug formulary was constructed, how it will be implemented and how best to comply. Preferably, this would be led by the Division of Workers’ Compensation. This education should not stop in the lead-up to implementation but should continue in a feedback loop during and after to ensure that issues are identified and resolved quickly.
  8. A drug formulary should be simplified for ease of implementation. States with workers’ compensation drug formularies have made the choice of drugs relatively binary. For instance, a drug may be classified as one that is recommended for first line therapy (“Y” drug) or a drug that is not recommended as first line therapy (“N” drug) and should not be used unless it has been reviewed and approved by a second clinical opinion. The definition of what is and is not included in the formulary should not be narrative or interpretive, but something easy to read and — more importantly — to program into pharmacy benefit management (PBM), utilization review (UR), independent medical review (IMR) and bill review systems.
  9. Drug formulary rules should include a well-defined dispute resolution process and expedited appeal process. The goal of a closed formulary is to ensure that there are safeguards in place to prevent unnecessary medications from being dispensed to injured workers. The exclusion of a drug from the formulary (for example, an “N” drug) should not mean it cannot be utilized, only that the prescriber should be required to validate its medical necessity vs. drugs that are included. California obviously already has that infrastructure, which is why I felt in 2012 that California was a candidate for a workers’ compensation drug formulary. The onus should be on the prescriber to provide necessary evidence as to why this particular drug is required for this patient at this time. If that can be established, then that drug should be allowed to be given to the patient.

If the above steps are taken and appropriate time is given for their completion, a properly constructed and implemented drug formulary in California should result in cost savings to the system. The primary savings will emerge over time as fewer and fewer of California’s injured workers are lost to dependence, addiction and overdose. The ability to settle and close claims more quickly will be a positive result for both employers and employees.

A workers’ Compensation drug formulary could have a lasting and significant change in how prescription drugs are prescribed in California. I truly believe that by making everyone in the system think before prescribing, the injured workers will receive better care, and stress on the workers’ compensation system in California will be reduced.

I would enjoy being a continued resource to this committee as deliberations evolve. Thank you again for the opportunity to be part of this hearing.

10 Strategies to Combat the Rx Abuse Epidemic – An Insurer's Perspective

The misuse and abuse of prescription drugs has taken a devastating toll on communities all across America. For insurance companies, the financial impact of rising opioid costs continues to cause concerns, as medical payments exceed indemnity payments.

In 1987, medical losses represented only 46 percent of the dollars spent on workers' compensation claims. Today, medical losses represent roughly 60 percent of the dollars spent on these claims.1 In the Winter edition of the NAMIC Mutual Insurance magazine, the article “Opioids: A Workers’ Compensation Epidemic” discussed the Accident Fund Insurance’s 60%/40% medical loss/indemnity loss split, in addition to calling opioids workers’ compensation’s current worst enemy.2

With approximately 20 percent of all medical spending going towards prescription drugs, workers' compensation, insurers have been working hard to mitigate these costs. Insurers have negotiated discounts with preferred providers, established comprehensive prescription drug networks, used advanced analytics to identify the most severe claims, promoted evidence-based pain diagnoses, leveraged utilization reviews, and invested in tort reform. All of these measures have been taken with the goal of reducing injured worker reliance on addictive prescriptions drugs and helping workers return to work sooner.

To address the opioid epidemic, a number of strategies have been developed at both the national and state levels in consultation with medical professionals, law enforcement, insurance companies, and public health and drug prevention experts. In October 2013, the Trust For America’s Health (TFAH) issued a report titled, “Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic” identifying ten strategies being employed at the State level.3 In this article, we will provide a brief recap of the strategies and share our thoughts on some insurance company considerations.

Although no single strategy is a “silver bullet” that will alleviate the opioid epidemic, each strategy must be considered in the context of the unique circumstances that exist in each state. Ultimately, these efforts could play a role in helping insurance companies mitigate opioid related costs going forward.

A Recap of the 10 Strategies

1. Prescription Drug Monitoring Program: Does the state have an operational Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP)?

The TFAH report noted that 49 states have an active PDMP. These programs hold the promise of being able to quickly identify problem prescribers and individuals misusing and diverting drugs. The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Center of Excellence at Brandeis University, the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, the Alliance of States with Prescription Monitoring Programs and other organizations have stressed the importance of PDMPs in fighting prescription drug abuse and misuse and improving patient safety. These organizations have also issued a variety of recommendations and leading practices for PDMPs including interstate operability, mandatory utilization, expanded access, real-time reporting, use of proactive alerts, and integration with electronic medical records.

On September 13, 2013, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists web site discussed how PDMP programs are gaining steam.4  Specifically, they mentioned how New York became the first state to require that prescribers consult the State’s PDPM registry before prescribing Schedule II, III or IV controlled substances.   From an insurance company perspective, understanding how effective PDMP programs are with controlling physician prescriber behavior can help claim adjusters and actuaries gain a better understanding of medical costs going forward.

Of note, Missouri is currently the only state without a PDMP. From our perspective, this raises concerns that Missouri could be targeted by individuals looking to illegally sell/purchase prescription drugs and profit from their misuse and abuse. Without the tracking and monitoring of prescriptions, some patients may find it convenient to cross the border in order to fill their medications in Missouri. Not surprisingly, on November 21, 2013, KCTV News (Kansas City) published a story titled “Missouri a hot spot for 'doctor shopping' for Rx drugs” which seems to support this concern.5

2. Mandatory Use of PDMP: Does the State require mandatory use of PDMPs by providers? (i.e., any form of a mandatory use requirement).

The TFAH report found only 16 States require use of the PDMP by providers (and then only in certain situations) and of those States, only eight States require use of the PDMP before the initial dispensing of a controlled substance. From our perspective, it isn’t surprising that some professionals find the lack of enforcement troubling, especially given the recommendation from the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Center of Excellence at Brandeis University that utilization of PDMPs be mandated for all prescribers.

Some providers have expressed genuine discontent with the mandatory use of the PDMP, since it increases their administrative burden and may reduce the time they can spend with patients.  However, this additional burden has to be weighed against the benefits of mandatory PDMP usage which can help prevent an addict from filling duplicate prescriptions, identify a stolen prescription pad, or highlight a provider who is obviously writing phony subscriptions. 

Ultimately, the majority of health-care providers rank patient health and safety as a priority, and given the undeniable prevalence of the prescription diversion and abuse, their goal can only be furthered by using the PDMP.  Lastly, from an actuarial perspective, the mandatory use of PDMP’s would increase the ability of States to measure the true value/effectiveness of PDMP efforts.

3. Doctor Shopping Law: Does the state have a doctor shopping statute?

Doctor shopping is the practice of seeing multiple physicians and pharmacies to acquire controlled substances — for a person’s own use and/or for reselling purposes. The TFAH report noted that all States have laws in place that either:

a) Make it a criminal offense to obtain drugs through fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, subterfuge, or concealment of material fact.

b) Make doctor shopping illegal.

c) Prohibit patients from withholding information that they have received either a controlled substance or prescription order from another practitioner, or the same controlled substance or one of similar therapeutic use within a specified time interval.

Doctor shopping laws are aimed at deterring individuals from one method of wrongfully obtaining prescription drugs. In Tennessee, the Office of the Inspector General has used these laws very effectively.

In the Long Island Newsday article “State’s new prescription pain pill system snags apparent doctor shoppers”, New York State’s online system discovered 200 instances of apparent doctor shopping in the first three days of use.6   With diversion and addiction on the rise, anything we can do to keep opioids out of the hands of those who shouldn’t access them is a move in the right direction. The more illegal pills taken out of circulation, the less likely an addicted injured worker will be able to further any bad habits.

4. Support for Substance Abuse Services: Has the state expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, thereby expanding coverage of substance abuse treatment?

The TFAH report noted that in 2011, 21.6 million Americans age 12 and older needed treatment for a substance abuse problem, but only 2.3 million received treatment at a substance abuse facility. This shortfall represents a “treatment gap” where treatment is not readily available for millions of Americans who are in need of assistance. The TFAH report found that 24 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), thereby expanding coverage of substance abuse treatment. However, it is unclear whether the remaining 26 States will expand their Medicaid coverage and substance abuse treatment efforts.

The authors have experienced firsthand the need for additional substance abuse treatment during the radio shows we host on Rx Drug abuse issues.  Several callers have expressed frustration over not being able to receive substance abuse treatment either for themselves or a loved one and want to know where they can go to find help.  Sadly, some Americans have resorted to committing a crime so they could receive free treatment while incarcerated.

Fortunately for some workers’ compensation claimants, a number of insurance companies have been proactively leveraging pain management programs to help wean injured workers off of addictive opioids.  This not only improves the quality of life of for the injured worker and his/her family, but benefits the employer through the employee’s return to work and the insurance company’s lower expenditure on medical.

5. Prescriber Education Requirement: Does the state require or recommend education for prescribers of pain medications?

The TFAH report noted it is important to educate providers about the risks of prescription drug misuse to prevent providers from prescribing incorrectly and/or to ensure they consider possible drug interactions when prescribing a new medication to a patient. The report also noted that most medical, dental, pharmacy, and other health professional schools currently do not provide in-depth training on substance abuse and students may only receive limited training on treating pain.

In July of 2012, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) for extended release opioids that require manufacturers to fund voluntary painkiller training programs, at little to no cost, to all U.S. licensed prescribers. The FDA then issued a letter to prescribers, which was distributed by the American Medical Association (AMA), American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), the American Academy of Pain Management (AAPM) and ASAM, which recommended that prescribers take advantage of those educational programs. However, the FDA did not make attendance by prescribers mandatory, a decision which drew criticism from some individuals that believed REMS should be mandatory.

How critical is the need for re-education regarding prescribing of opioids? In May of 2013, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated in a PBS interview: “When I went to medical school, the one thing I was told was completely wrong. The one thing I was told was if you give opioids to a patient who is in pain, they will not get addicted.  Completely wrong. Completely wrong. But a generation of doctors, a generation of us grew up being trained that these drugs aren’t risky.”7 If Dr. Frieden is correct, then the TFAH’s finding that only 22 States either require or recommend prescriber education for pain medication prescribers indicates that we have a long way to go in stemming the Rx Drug abuse problem. 

However, it is important to note that some insurance companies are doing their part in helping to educate prescribers. As noted on the Employers’ Insurance Company website, the company’s opioid program takes proactive measures to help control the flow of narcotics by involving the workers’ compensation insurance carrier, injured employees, workers’ compensation physicians and pharmacy benefit managers. The first prong of their program focuses on training physicians to recognize the signs of opioid abuse and encourages them to consider other effective pain management alternatives.8 It is insurance company efforts like this, in combination with FDA REMS, Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing (PROP)9, and state and federal efforts that will help stem the Rx drug abuse problem.

6. Good Samaritan Law: Does the state have a law in place to provide a degree of immunity from criminal charges or mitigation of sentencing for an individual seeking help for themselves or others experiencing an overdose?

Per the TFAH report, 17 states and the District of Columbia have a law in place to either provide a degree of immunity from criminal charges or mitigation of sentencing for an individual seeking help for themselves or others experiencing an overdose. These laws are designed to encourage people to actually help those in danger of an overdose, as opposed to walking away or not even making the call to 911.

The TFAH report noted that a study conducted after passage of Washington’s 911 Good Samaritan Law found that 88 percent of prescription painkiller users indicated that once they were aware of the law, they would be more likely to call 911 during future overdoses. Thus, this strategy may well be critical in helping stem the toll of Rx Drug abuse until prescribing practices can be modified.

7. Support for Narcan Use: Does the state have a law in place to expand access to, and use of, Narcan (a/k/a, Naloxone) for overdosing individuals given by lay administrators?

Narcan is an FDA approved drug that can be used to counter the effects of prescription painkiller overdose. It is not a controlled substance; has no abuse potential; and, can be administered by minimally trained laypeople. The TFAH report found that 17 states and the District of Columbia have a law in place to expand access to, and the use of, Naloxone for overdosing individuals given by lay administrators. In addition, Washington and Rhode Island are currently implementing collaborative practice agreements where Narcan can be distributed by pharmacists.

As was noted in the article “Naloxone Expansion in California Will Enable Family, Friends To Save Lives At Home,” Californians are now able to reverse overdoses at home with a lifesaving injectable drug called Narcan, which can be administered through the nose or intravenously to a person suffering from an opiate overdose.10

8. Physical Exam Requirement: Does the State require a healthcare provider to either conduct a physical exam of the patient, a screening for signs of substance abuse or have a bona fide patient-physician relationship that includes a physician examination, prior to prescribing prescription medications?

Per the TFAH, 44 States and the District of Columbia have such a requirement. Unfortunately, the State laws vary regarding the circumstances under which an exam is required (for example, for all drugs or just specified prescriptions) and the consequences for prescribing without a required examination (i.e., whether there is criminal liability). While this is a promising strategy, wouldn’t unanimity between the States make this strategy even more effective?

The authors question whether “a physical exam requirement” is a better strategy than simply requiring a drug screen. While increased costs may be associated with such a strategy, a urine drug screen is the single most useful test to determine if someone is abusing controlled substances or diverting drugs they have been prescribed.

9. ID Requirement: Does the State have a law requiring or permitting a pharmacist to ask for identification prior to dispensing a controlled substance?

Pharmacists, as the dispensers of prescription drugs, play an important part in the distribution chain. Recognizing this role, the DEA took significant enforcement action in 2013 against national pharmacy chains for allegedly failing to recognize unusual sale volumes of controlled substances in several of their pharmacies.

The TFAH report found that 32 States have laws requiring or permitting a pharmacist to request an ID prior to dispensing a controlled substance. These laws vary in type from requiring presentation of an ID in all circumstances versus those where the purchasers are unknown to the pharmacist. In addition, some States require photo identification and others accept a broader range of government IDs.

The authors note that this “strategy” may represent one of the easier hurdles for drug seekers to circumvent given the ease of falsifying ID’s.  However, the battle against opioid addiction is a battle of inches, and the ID check represents one more step a possible abuser has to overcome to support their bad habit.

10. Pharmacy Lock-In Program:  Does the State’s Medicaid plan have a pharmacy lock-in program that requires individuals suspected of misusing controlled substances to use a single prescriber and pharmacy?

The TFAH report noted that in order to help healthcare providers monitor potential abuse or inappropriate utilization of controlled prescription drugs, some States have implemented programs requiring high users of certain drugs to use only one pharmacy and get prescriptions for controlled substances from only one medical office.  Lock-in programs are believed to help avoid doctor shopping while ensuring appropriate pain care for patients.

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia were noted to have a pharmacy lock-in program under the State’s Medicaid plan where individuals suspected of misusing controlled substances must use a single prescriber and pharmacy.  From discussions with pharmacists, it isn’t always easy for a pharmacist to question a treating physician about whether a prescription is valid.  From the authors’ experience, we have received a number of anecdotal reports of physicians treating pharmacists in a less than respectful manner when a pharmacist questioned whether a prescription was valid.  In these cases, the pharmacists are simply trying to do their best to help curb prescription drug diversion.  In our view, the Lock-In strategy helps strengthen the professional relationships between doctors and pharmacists.

How are the States Doing with Implementing the Strategies?

The TFAH report found that the States’ implementation of the 10 strategies vary widely. For example, 11 States have implemented at least 8 of the 10 strategies. 4 States have implement at least 9, and only New Mexico and Vermont have implemented all 10. Interestingly, in 2010 New Mexico ranked #2 in drug overdose mortality rate per 100,000 residents (which includes both prescription drug and illicit drug overdoses) while Vermont ranked 42nd. It will be interesting to see what advances, if any, New Mexico makes in the Rx drug abuse/misuse war during the next several years with all 10 strategies in place.

On the flip side, South Dakota is the only state with just 2 of the strategies in place.  However, it ranked 50th in drug overdose mortality rate per 100,000 residents in 2010, suggesting the State may not have a misuse/abuse problem of significance. However, two states, Missouri and Nebraska, have only three of the promising strategies in place. In 2010, Missouri ranked 7th in drug overdose mortality rate per 100,000 residents, while Nebraska ranked 49th. With no PDMP, it will be interesting to watch where Missouri ranks in future studies.

With over 60 percent of workers’ compensation payments going towards medical costs, it will be important for insurers to pay close attention to state specific efforts to combat prescription abuse. With the right amount of actuarial research and advanced analytics, workers’ compensation insurers can develop a better understanding of their opioid exposed population and the prescribing habits of the physicians treating their injured workers.  To the extent insurance companies can leverage the above strategies in combination with their own analytics, physician educational efforts, evidence-based pain diagnoses, utilization reviews, and tort reform efforts (e.g., In 2011, the 79th Texas Legislature adopted a closed formulary system which led to a 70 percent decrease in Schedule II narcotic costs11), we believe insurers can move the needle on reducing opioid abuse and addiction.

In the end, these opioid risk management strategies may not only generate dollar savings to workers compensation insurers as workers return to work sooner, but will help improve the quality of life for the injured worker and his/her family.

Footnotes

1 http://www.ncci.com/

2 http://www.namic.org/in/13winterpre.asp

3 http://healthyamericans.org/reports/drugabuse2013/TFAH2013RxDrugAbuseRpt12_no_embargo.pdf

4 http://www.ashp.org/menu/News/PharmacyNews/NewsArticle.aspx?id=3951

5 http://www.kctv5.com/story/24039604/missouri-a-hot-spot-for-doctor-shopping-for-rx-drugs

6 http://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/state-s-new-prescription-pain-pill-system-snags-apparent-doctor-shoppers-1.5995395

7 http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/daily_videos/prescription-drug-abuse-can-have-fatal-consequences/

8 http://www.employers.com/AGENTS/BLOG/post/2013/10/07/Opioid-Program-Shows-Results.aspx

9 http://www.supportprop.org/

10 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/11/naloxone-expansion-california_n_4081044.html

11 http://www.riskandinsurance.com/story.jsp?storyId=533355286

Authors

Kevin Bingham collaborated with Alix C. Michel and David J. Ward in writing this article.

Alix C. Michel is an attorney at Michel & Ward, a firm based in Chattanooga, TN specializing in the defense of all types of healthcare professionals, hospitals, longterm care facilities, and educating society on the dangers of RX Drug Diversion and strategies to help in the fight against same.

David J. Ward is an attorney at Michel and Ward, a law firm based in Chattanooga, TN. Michel and Ward defends and advises physicians, healthcare providers, longterm care facilities, and others in professional malpractice litigation, professional licensing investigations, and healthcare practice issues.

This article first appeared on December 2, 2013 on PropertyCasualty360.com. © 2013 PropertyCasualty360, A Summit Professional Networks website.

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.