Opioids and risk management: What you need to know

Opioid Addictio

Opioid addiction is a deeply troubling, growing problem among all ages, races, and classes in America. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, in 2014 nearly 2.5 million people ages 12 and up had an opioid related substance abuse problem.

A generation ago, the face of opioid addiction was a down-and-out man, often homeless, usually in a large city, using needles to inject illicitly acquired illegal drugs like heroin.

Times have changed. Opioid addiction now more commonly begins with a legitimate prescription for completely legal pain medication. These highly potent, pharmaceutical grade painkillers are widely prescribed. In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle, according to the ASAM. Synthetic opioids like the extremely powerful fentanyl, which the artist Prince overdosed on causing his death earlier this year, are prized on the black market and very difficult to kick.

Pain management is no doubt a crucial aspect of patient recovery from illness, injury, and disease. However, even the best intentioned patients can find themselves quickly becoming reliant on highly potent painkillers, creating significant new problems that linger far beyond the initial injury.

For business owners, opioid addiction can be a dangerous side effect of worker’s compensation claims. Recent studies show that a staggering 75% of workers injured on the job receive opioid prescriptions for pain management. Few of those injured, however, receive education about how to properly manage using the drugs.

Looking at prescribing patterns across more than 260,000 worker’s compensation claims in 25 states in 2012, the Workers Compensation Research Institute found that while there were significant differences among the states, in all cases narcotics are the most commonly used class of medication for pain management.

While prescription levels are high, what is lacking are supportive services and wellness programs that proactively help patients manage their pain medication use and get off of it as soon as possible. There are guidelines that recommend monitoring and management services, such as periodic drug screening and testing and psychological evaluation and treatment, but the WCRI continues “to find low use of psychological services among injured workers with longer-term use of opioids.”

That has to change. Any business with significant workers’ compensation exposure should make opioid management a key part of its return to work strategy. Many wellness programs, vital to helping keep employees healthy and safe, rightfully focus on the “ounce of prevention” prescription. Smart risk managers will extend that “ounce of prevention” by requiring opioid management to be part of the recovery process for anyone taking pain meds for a workplace injury.

Losing valuable employees to opioid addiction is a scary proposition, but there are powerful tools that can help prevent this from happening.  Get in touch with me today and I’ll help craft a solution that makes sense for your business.

Dave Sinclair, CEO The WorkPlace Solution


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About the author

David Sinclair is the CEO of The WorkPlace Solutions and Sinclair Risk & Financial Management.

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