Workers’ compensation defense attorneys are working closely with employers to deal with the impact of the opioid epidemic on the workplace. Claims managers and workers’ comp panel counsel members consider opioid use to be a high priority for 2018.
More than $1.5 billion was spent on opioids including OxyContin and Vicodin by workers’ compensation insurers in 2015, according to a survey conducted by CompPharma. This dropped 13.3 percent in 2016 due to lower claim volumes, decreased usage of opioids, and clinical management changes, but the costs and risks associated with opioid use in workers’ compensation claims remains high.
Risks of Opioid Use in the Workplace
Employees who use opioids may pose risks of injury to themselves and other employees, since opioid use can impair an employee’s ability to perform their job safely. This may include but is not limited to construction jobs that require working from heights or using power tools, truckers who spend their days driving, or manufacturing workers exposed to heavy machinery.
Medical Care Magazine has estimated that the cost of the opioid epidemic is more than $80 billion annually, with health insurers and workers’ compensation carriers paying for about one-third of this cost. In 2012, a Hopkins Accident Research Fund Study found that employees who are prescribed one or more opioids had average total claim costs of four to eight times higher than employees with similar claims who were not prescribed opioids. The increased costs are due to increased emergency room visits from opioid overdose, death, addiction treatment, and opioid related illnesses.
States Taking Steps to Fighting Opioid Addiction in the Workplace
Due to the opioid epidemic among workers, several states are taking steps to modify their existing workers’ compensation systems to address overprescribing of opioids by physicians to injured workers. Some states are also providing counseling and wellness services to current opioid users to minimize future risks.
The New York Workers’ Compensation Board announced in October 2016 that it would allow insurers to request hearings to determine if a claimant should be gradually taken off of opioids. The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation has also implemented new rules, effective January 1, 2018, providing that reimbursement for opioid prescriptions may be denied if the prescribing physicians appear to be overprescribing or failing to follow “best medical practices” in providing treatment for injured workers. The rules also provide treatment options for workers who have become addicted to opioids after becoming injured.
Opioid Use Litigation
Opioid class action lawsuits are now being filed against physicians, pharmacies, and opioid manufacturers. More than 25 states, cities, and counties have also filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies that have allegedly made false claims about the dangers of their opioid drugs. States such as Illinois, California, Ohio, New York, Kentucky, and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, have filed lawsuits and have received settlements from the pharmaceutical companies being sued.
Workers’ Compensation Panel Counsel Implications
Workers’ comp defense attorneys that develop an in-depth understanding of the issues associated with opioid use in treating injured workers can demonstrate their leadership in the field through CE seminars, speaking engagements, articles, blog posts, and LinkedIn coverage.
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Disclaimer: Information in this article is taken from various company and industry news sources, and is believed to be reliable.