Although opioid drugs provide indispensable pain relief to injured people, they also carry a high risk of drug abuse and accidental overdose. To combat this issue, the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently announced that it would begin monitoring opioid use by injured federal workers, starting in August. A press release issued on June 27th detailed the changes to occur and the motivation for those changes. The program will take place under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, which provides benefits for sick and injured workers. It falls on the heels of an executive order signed by President Trump in March that sought to reduce opioid addiction in the United States. Will it succeed?
DOL Begins Monitoring Opioid Use by Federal Workers
The Purpose of the Program
Natural or synthetic chemicals that bind to the receptors of the brain or body, opioids are sometimes prescribed by physicians to relieve pain. Heroin and prescription drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl are common examples of opioids. As we mentioned above, opioids are not harmful in and of themselves. When used as prescribed by a qualified physician, they can offer safe pain relief to workers suffering after an injury. So why did the DOL decide to start monitoring opioid use by injured federal workers?
Unfortunately, opioid drugs also present a significant risk of substance use disorder and overdose. The United States is currently in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic. Did you know that drug overdose is now the leading cause of death among Americans under age 50? According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, more than 28,000 people died from opioid overdose in 2014. Over half of those deaths involved a prescription opioid. In addition, more than 10,500 people died from heroin in 2014 – that’s more than triple the number of heroin-related deaths that occurred in 2010.
The DOL’s decision to begin monitoring the opioid use of federal workers reflects the hazards presented by the opioid crisis. “Due to these safety concerns, we believe these additional monitoring steps are necessary and appropriate,” said Gary A. Steinberg, deputy director of the OWCP (source).
Benefits of a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program
The Department of Labor is not the only entity monitoring opioid use; states employ prescription drug monitoring programs (PMDPs) as well. Several states using such programs have noticed a reduction in deaths involving opioids (source). For example, the number of oxycodone overdose deaths decreased by 50 percent from 2010 to 2012, following the establishment of a PDMP in Florida. In 2012, New York and Tennessee required prescribers to check their state’s PDMP before prescribing opioids (NY) or painkillers (TN). By 2013, both states saw a decline in patients visiting multiple prescribers for the same drugs: a 75 percent drop in New York, a 36 percent drop in Tennessee. As of this week, following an executive order by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, all 50 states have a PDMP.
With over two million Americans estimated to be dependent on opioids according to early data from 2017, opioid abuse is a serious public health issue. By instituting a prescription drug monitoring program, the DOL hopes to address this issue. According to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws (NAMSDL), a PDMP can provide the following benefits:
- It supports access to controlled substances for legitimate medical use.
- It identifies drug abuse and diversion.
- It deters and prevents drug abuse and diversion.
- It helps identify people addicted to prescription drugs.
- It may encourage treatment for people addicted to prescription drugs.
- It outlines trends in drug abuse, which may assist with public health initiatives.
- It educates people about prescription drug use, abuse, addiction, etc.
In addition, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, PDMPs are linked with a reduction in opioid-related overdoses and deaths.
Two Phases of Administration
The DOL’s new policy for monitoring opioid use will include two phases of administration.
The office will administer the first phase on August 1, 2017, and it will address claims with newly prescribed opioid use (those in which an opioid has not been prescribed within the past 180 days). If an injured worker still requires an opioid medication after 60 days, the prescribing physician must submit to a review process for all prescriptions thereafter. The new policy limits opioid drug prescriptions to a maximum of 60 days, and all initial fills and refills of prescriptions must be limited to 30-day supplies. It encourages physicians to prescribe the shortest duration of opioid relief possible that will still provide a sufficient level of pain relief.
The second phase of the policy will address legacy opioid claims, i.e., people who seek prescriptions for pain relief for many years after the initial injury. Details about this phase have not yet been released.
Workplace Drug Testing
We encourage you to stay ahead of the opioid epidemic by establishing a new or updating a current drug and alcohol policy in your workplace. If you’re looking to implement a drug-free workplace through drug and alcohol testing, contact Tomo Drug Testing. Based in Springfield (MO), St. Louis (MO), Kansas City (MO), Indianapolis (IN), and Evansville (IN), we offer customized solutions to make drug testing simple, and our nationwide network of clinics and providers allows Tomo to be available anytime, anywhere. For a free needs analysis, give us a call today at 1-888-379-7697 or contact us online. We would be happy to help!