Targeting Opioid Use When Workers Get Hurt

Workers’ compensation payers spent $1.5 billion, or 13% of total U.S. spending, on opioids in 2015

Workers’-compensation payers spent $1.54 billion on opioids in 2015.
Workers’-compensation payers spent $1.54 billion on opioids in 2015. PHOTO: GEORGE FREY/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Workplace injury is one of the main reasons doctors prescribe opioids, and dependence has become an expensive problem for those paying workers’ comp claims. Workers’ compensation payers spent $1.54 billion on opioids in 2015, or 13% of total U.S. spending on opioids, according to an analysis by CompPharma LLC.

Companies that handle claims for those injuries are trying new programs that push workers toward alternative pain treatments and that make it harder to get prescriptions for potentially addictive drugs—all intended to get people back to work without getting hooked, companies say.

Workers compensation brokers, insurers and administrators, such as Lockton Companies LLC., Liberty Mutual Group Inc. and Broadspire Services Inc. are using predictive algorithms and behavioral health screens to assess an individual’s risk for dependency, and steering some injured workers to alternate treatments such as over-the-counter drugs and mental-health counseling in lieu of prescription opioids. Such programs are aimed at preventing abuse, rather than treating it after the fact.

“We were not capturing opioids early enough. We were catching them once they were already at a high dosage,” said Jacob Lazarovic,chief medical officer of Broadspire, which administers workers comp claims for self-insured employers and insurers.

When an injured worker is first prescribed a drug like Fentanyl, Broadspire mails an opioid education packet to both patient and doctor, and tracks refills. Claims are reviewed after 10 weeks to check whether the patient is still taking opioids. Broadspire then works with the physician to make plans for weaning the patient off the drugs, he says.

In a test of the program, opioid prescriptions fell by 14% compared with a control group, the company says.

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