Managing the Costs of Opiate Abuse

We recently wrote about Georgia’s new 90-day Rule aimed at diminishing the proliferation of “Pill Mills” throughout Georgia.  Despite these efforts, it is no secret that the rate of opioid abuse continues to rise not just in Georgia, but also throughout the country.  A recent CDC study determined that there were more deaths from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any other year.  In fact, more than 60% of these deaths involved opioids such as prescription pain relievers and heroin.   The study went on to state that since 1999, such opioid deaths have quadrupled and that 78 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses.

Nearly mirroring the increased rate of overdoses is the rate of the prescription of opioids, which has also quadrupled.  In 2012, health providers prescribed 259 million prescriptions for opioids, more than one bottle of pills for every American.  It has become such a problem that the CDC recently published a guide for the prescription of opiates wherein it hoped to publicize this issue as well as promote potential mechanisms for curbing it.  This guide broke these recommendations down into three areas: determining when to initiate or continue opioids for chronic pain; opioid selection, dosage, duration, follow-up, and discontinuation; and assessing risk and addressing harms of opioid use. These guidelines also called for the use of aspirin and ibuprofen to treat pain as an alternative to opiates.  They further recommend that opioids be prescribed only for short-term use and that urine testing be used to ensure compliance.

So what does this mean for those managing Georgia workers’ compensation claims?  For starters, it’s important to note than many individuals first encounter prescription opioids during treatment for an on-the-job accident.  In the short term, this means pain relief.  In the long run, this can mean dependency and escalating costs following a pain management referral.  In order to mitigate the potential for this scenario, a plan needs to be put into place on the front end and needs to be followed throughout a claim.

When putting together a posted panel of physicians on the front end, the selection of physicians that have voluntarily agreed to abide by the CDC’s guidelines can be a useful practice for ensuring that you have selected physicians that are aware of opioid abuse and have actively decided to do something about it.  While not foolproof, this is at least one mechanism for potentially limiting exposure in the long run.  Additionally, putting in place a prescription tracking system that can be monitored throughout a claim can often be helpful in determining when there may be a potential problem with opiate abuse.  Carefully evaluating this data at least allows for the potential of curbing long-term abuse.

Of course there is no foolproof way to avoid many of the problems that come with opioid dependence.  It’s a serious issue and there are not presently any guaranteed solutions.  At this point, awareness of the problem, working towards its prevention, and risk mitigation remain the key elements in avoiding many of the increased costs associated with opiate abuse.  Should you need assistance with curbing these expenses in a Georgia workers’ compensation claim, contact The Rock Law Firm today!