May
17

Opioids, marijuana, pain, and workers’ comp

NCCI’s Raji Chadarevian discussed opioid utilization, price, and cost at NCCI’s AIS 2018.

6 percent of opioid medications used in workers’ comp is for treating opioid use disorder; methadone and suboxone are the drugs of choice.

The older the claim is, the more opioids are prescribed. For 15 year old claims, about 2.5 oxycodone pills were prescribed per day. As a result, claims that are more than 10 years old accounted for more than 50% of all oxycodone pills. And, the top 10% of users consumed 79% of pills.

Those heavy users also get a lot of other medications to help them deal with side effects of opioids (and other conditions). These users get about 7 non-opioid scripts for every 10 opioid scripts.  These drugs include gabapentin, benzos, and muscle relaxants.  Fortunately, Raji reported that there’s been a change over time as prescribers have shifted to non-benzo anticonvulsants and made other changes to reduce health risks.

Raji handed the mic off to Dr David Deitz (good friend and colleague). Dr Deitz gave a trenchant and informative description of marijuana, noting that way more is not known about marijuana’s (and its included compounds’) effects on humans than we do know. Some of the effects are reduced anxiety, reduced inflammation, euphoria, appetite stimulation and others you may have experienced yourself.

Dr Deitz then reviewed the state of the science on cannabis – there is substantial evidence of benefit for the treatment of chronic pain and the treatment of nausea due to chemotherapy.  Moderate benefit for anxiety, sleep loss, and appetite/weight loss due to HIV/AIDS has been found.

Evidently there are a lot of restrictions on research into marijuana by the FDA – some seem nonsensical.  These restrictions are screwing up research, and perhaps leading to wrong conclusions.

For work comp, cannabis may be useful as an adjunct, or secondary treatment for:

  • Chronic pain
  • Anxiety
  • Spasticity related to spinal cord injuries

Couple other key points.

Opioid mortality and the use of opioids for Medicare and Medicaid patients both declined in states with legalized use of marijuana.

58% of voters support legalization of marijuana, and 70% oppose enforcement of federal laws in states that have legalized marijuana.

The net – we don’t know much about cannabis, but we do know it absolutely helps in certain conditions, and most folks want it legalized.


May
4

Fast facts about work comp pharmacy

We’re pushing to finish CompPharma’s Annual Survey of Prescription Drug Management in Workers’ Comp next week. After cleaning up the data, we’ve got final figures.

Quick takeaway – we workers comp types are doing a MUCH better job controlling drug usage than the rest of the world  – and MUCH MUCH better controlling opioids.

Here are a few key data points:

  • Total drug spend was down almost 10 percent last year; drug costs are down 22 percent over the last six years
  • In contrast, other payers’ spend dropped 2.1%.
  • Opioid spend decreased by a third over the last two years.
  • Other payers’ opioid spend dropped by less than half that – 14.9%.

While decreases in opioid spend have been dramatic, payers are still extremely concerned about opioid consumption – especially among long-term patients.

There’s a widespread and deep concern among respondents (29 payers of all types) that we’re a long way from figuring out how to help long-term opioid users reduce/eliminate their drug consumption.

This year we dug deep into that issue, and one key takeaway is the current regulatory focus on formularies and utilization review is focusing on a problem – initial prescriptions of opioids – that, while not solved, is much better controlled.

Where payers, patients, prescribers, and PBMs need regulatory help is with chronic opioid patients. Respondents had a raft of suggestions…

  • mandatory urine drug testing done by labs not affiliated with the prescribing physician
  • prescriber documentation of improvements in pain and functionality required before continuing dosing
  • allow payers to reimburse for opioid recovery services while eliminating responsibility for non-opioid related psychological issues

What does this mean for you?

Work comp isn’t known as an innovative or progressive – yet here you are, well in front of other payers and work comp regulators.

Well done.


Apr
30

Workers’ comp opioid usage is way down

CompPharma’s latest Survey of Prescription Drug Management in Workers’ Compensation (past reports available for download) has some very welcome news; over the last two years, opioid spend is down by one-third.

Most of that reduction is from improvements in clinical management and changes in prescribing patterns and behavior.

(I’m finishing up this year’s report draft tomorrow…)

Of the 28 respondents to this year’s Survey, 25 had double-digit decreases in annual opioid spend, and six saw drops greater than 25%.

The opioid spend reduction was a big driver of a reduction of 9.8% in total drug costs across all respondents –  the sixth decrease over the last 8 years.

Couple early takeaways:

  • A dozen respondents cited improved/upgraded/expanded clinical management programs as key drivers of the change.
  •  Big decreases in compound drug costs were also noted by several respondents, with most seeing reductions greater than 30%.
  • In response to the question “Where do prescription drug issues rank compared to other medical service issues at your organization?,” drug costs were rated as a 4.1 on a 5 point scale, (more important than other medical service issues).

This last is telling.

After dramatic improvements in opioid utilization, respondents remain quite concerned about the impact of drugs on claim closure, disability duration, and patient safety.

What does this mean for you?

Progress is great, and much remains to be done.

 

 


Apr
23

Let’s call it what it is.

Opioid prescriptions continue to drop, down 22% from 2013 – 2017. That’s great news indeed…but there are still far too many. The press release from the AMA calls for more Medication-Assisted Therapy, expanded treatment and access to that treatment  – all needed.

One statement in the AMA release really bothers me:

Physicians and other stakeholders accept that bold action is needed. We go where the evidence leads us.

Bullshit.

Reality is, too many prescribers went where the marketers led them, rarely asking the right questions, accepting at face-value claims of smiling detailers, mindlessly mis-citing “Porter & Jick” as rationale for ever-escalating doses of opioids.

If the AMA’s statement was true, we never would have had the opioid crisis in the first place. We all know NOW that the “research studies”, “evidence”, and “literature” used to get docs to prescribe mountains of pills was incredibly weak, completely mis-characterized, and/or non-existent.

We all make mistakes…in this case prescribers made a monumental one. If the AMA accepted some level of responsibility for the opioid crisis and spent a lot less time lobbying against mandatory Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs and quibbling over dosage levels I’d be a little less angry.

I’ve long pilloried many for their role in the opioid crisis, and many readers have as well. It’s long past time the AMA and their fellow travelers acknowledge the harm they caused – and continue to cause – by NOT “going where the evidence leads them.”

Then, and only then, will they will be a credible part of the solution.

What does this mean for you?

Taking responsibility is rarely easy, often painful, and always needed.


Apr
13

When are you going to sue the opioid industry?

States, cities, counties, school districts, and individuals all have sued the opioid industry.  A lot of these have been consolidated in one suit in Federal District Court in Cleveland under what is known as Multidistrict Litigation or MDL. The judge in that case has ordered trials to begin in 2019.

Courts and law enforcement go after penny-ante street dealers, narcos, and their supply chain, and now they are going after guys like this…

This is Arthur Sackler MD of Purdue Pharma, courtesy Wikipedia.

In Cleveland, Judge Polster has ordered the DEA to turn over voluminous records of opioid transactions next week. The records, for a handful of states for 2006 – 2014, will be used to identify what drugs were shipped where by whom.

While hundreds of cases have been consolidated into this one, the Judge, Dan Aaron Polster, has no jurisdiction over many more suits that have been filed independently by individuals, employers, providers, estates, and others.

But the MDL case overseen by Judge Polster is instructive, as he is focused on not only resolving the case, but finding long-term answers to what will certainly be a decades-long struggle to deal with the harm caused by the opioid industry. His intent appears to be to help identify financial resources to help pay for that work.

From the LaCrosse Tribune:

The judge’s ultimate goal is to “dramatically reduce the number of the pills that are out there and make sure that the pills that are out there are being used properly.

“The court observes that the vast oversupply of opioid drugs in the United States has caused a plague on its citizens and their local and State governments. Plaintiffs’ request for the … data, which will allow Plaintiffs to discover how and where the virus grew, is a reasonable step toward defeating the disease,” the judge wrote in an order.

Estimates of the harm already caused and the bills that will come due are in the hundred billion dollar plus range, this for an industry that sold almost $10 billion in opioids in one year, 2015.

So, back to my question.

When is the workers’ compensation industry, a group that buys way more than 10% of the opioids sold every year, going to sue the opioid manufacturers and marketers? 

We are waiting…


Apr
5

Compounds – the stench of corruption

There’s a bill in the US House of Representatives that would greatly expand compounding, drastically reduce the FDA’s ability to oversee compounding, and eliminate many of the desperately-needed controls on this occasionally-deadly and often-abused practice.

Why anyone thinks this is good idea is beyond me, but someone convinced Rep. H Morgan Griffith (R VA) to write a bill and introduce it in Congress, and Rep Henry Cuellar (D TX) and others to co-sponsor Griffith’s bill.

That “someone” may have deep pockets.

Griffith has received over $100,000 in donations from “health professionals” and pharma entities; Cuellar got money too.

Griffith also got more money from the “International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists” than any other candidate for any Federal office.  The IACP has spent millions lobbying Congress to strip the FDA of authority and eliminate controls over compounding.

The IACP and other organizations are seeking to rewrite regulations issued after the New England Compounding disaster, a tragedy that saw hundreds of people sickened and scores killed by contaminated compounded medications. These medications were prepared and shipped by the NECC, a business in Massachusetts that happened to be located right next to a recycling center owned by the same family.

(This is relevant because ventilation systems were one of the problems identified by investigators looking into the causes of contamination in NECC’s products.)

The regulations were issued to implement a law passed by Congress in response to a Congressional inquiry into the disaster.

From wikipedia:

In a congressional hearing the FDA Commissioner was asked why regulators at the FDA and the Massachusetts Board of Pharmacy did not take action against the pharmacy years earlier. The legislators were told that the agency was obligated to defer to Massachusetts authorities, who had more direct oversight over pharmacies.

Yet Griffith’s bill would overturn many of the desperately-needed controls now in place:

The bill exempts from interstate distribution limits the dispensing of a compounded drug from the facility where it is compounded to a patient or health facility.

The scope of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections of compounding pharmacies is limited to pertinent equipment, materials, containers, and labeling, which is the same scope as inspections of pharmacies. (Currently, the scope of inspections of compounding pharmacies is the same scope as inspections of drug manufacturers.)

The bill eliminates the requirement for compounding pharmacies to register with the FDA as drug manufacturers.

As a side note, we’re seeing a dramatic decrease in compounds in workers’ comp, driven by payers’ refusal to pay outrageous charges for “medications” with no proven efficacy. In our annual Survey of Prescription Drug Management in Work Comp, respondents are reporting they paid for far fewer compounds last year than the year before.

That decrease could reverse if Griffith’s bill is passed, and we could well see a return to the days of poorly-regulated profit mills masquerading as compounding pharmacies.

What does this mean for you?

Elections have consequences, and campaign finance laws are killing us.


Mar
30

Cirillo takes over at myMatrixx

myMatrixx, Express Scripts’ workers’ comp PBM brand, will name Mike Cirillo President on Monday April 2.

Cirillo most recently led Injured Workers’ Pharmacy’s effort to enter the PBM space. He has deep experience in work comp claims from his days at the Hartford’s SRS TPA, along with 5 years’ pharmacy experience at IWP.

He will replace myMatrixx CEO Artemis Emslie, who, as we’ve noted previously, announced her decision to step down at the end of last year. Those are some big shoes to fill, as Artemis is universally well-liked and well-regarded for her depth of knowledge and long experience in work comp pharmacy and related businesses.

The changeover comes at a critical time. Currently there are multiple payers deep into the RFP process, more so than I’ve seen at any one time in recent years.  Several are seriously evaluating switching PBMs.

IWP’s effort to launch a new work comp PBM started just over a year ago. The PBM, branded SpecialtySolutionsRx, did not gain much traction, perhaps due to payers’ views of IWP as part of the problem, not part of the solution to work comp drug issues. There is no current information available about Specialty Solutions on IWP’s site.

It is likely SSRx is in a holding pattern for the time being.


Mar
28

919,400 people aren’t working because of opioid use

My best guess is about a quarter of those are work comp patients.

Opioid use disorder (OUD) drains the workforce of qualified, experienced workers, costing our economy $40 billion.

Healthcare costs for OUD alone were $28 billion in 2015 – and all but $2 billion of that was paid by insurance – mostly Medicaid (which is taxpayer funded).

If you are 50 or younger, you’re more likely to die from opioid use than anything else – not a car accident, not cancer, not a heart attack, not diabetes.

Solutions

Medication-assisted therapy (MAT)- using methadone, buprenorphine, vivitrol to help victims get off and stay off opioids – is, for most folks, a key part of recovery. Yet most states have far too few MAT facilities, and many facilities only provide one or two of those medications (not surprisingly, different people seem to do better on different therapies).

Yet there are far too few providers trained and able to provide MAT.  From Inflexxion:

Data shows that less than half of privately funded treatment programs offer any form of medication-assisted treatment. That number falls to 23% in publicly funded programs. According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, of the 2.5 million opioid-dependent or opioid abusing Americans, fewer than 1 million received MAT.

MAT, coupled with counseling and patient-centric, individualized treatment plan can be quite effective.  A solid study found over well over half of patients using MAT were not using the illicit drugs 18 months into treatment – a remarkable success.

However workers’ comp payers are often unable to find MAT facilities, lack the understanding needed to develop a comprehensive, long-term treatment approach, and are loathe to go down that path, as they’re afraid it will make the employer liable for all manner of additional services.

What does this mean for you?

States can and should come up with novel ways of encouraging treatment while limiting future liability.

This will save thousands of lives and billions of dollars for employers and taxpayers.


Mar
22

Opioids and disability duration

On a panel discussing opioids, Dr Bogdan Savych of WCRI opened with a review of WCRI’s latest research looking at the link between opioid prescribing and the duration of disability.

It is great to see WCRI spend a big chunk of time and research dollars on this – which I believe is the biggest problem in workers’ comp today – and will get worse long before it gets any better.

Couple quick data points…

  • One of 10 workers who get opioids are still taking them after 90 days.
  • And, between half and 85% of workers (not surgical cases) who had pain medications were still getting scripts for opioids 3 months later
  • There’s really significantly different prescribing patterns depending on geography – NOT evidence-based guidelines, severity, injury type, etc – but simply where the patient is treated. (so much for the science of medicine…)

That’s just nuts. (editorial comment)

Dr Savych’s study looked at low back pain cases, noting that most guidelines do NOT recommend opioids for low back pain – and certainly not for long term treatment.

Workers with longer-term opioid scripts had more than triple the duration of disability of those who did not use opioids over the long term.

Yet there is NO evidence that opioids are appropriate for long term treatment of low-back pain

Takeaway – Do everything you can to prevent workers from taking opioids over the longer term.


Mar
22

How to prevent and stop opioid use in work comp

It can be done. And it is being done – by a state governmental agency, no less.

Ohio BWC (the state workers’ comp fund in Ohio)’s Medical Director gave background on just how bad things were at BWC in 2011, before just-hired pharmacy director John Hanna took over.

One patient was taking 4000 Morphine Equivalents per day.

40 million opioid doses prescribed in one year.

After five years, the number of opioid dependent patients, opioid doses, and patients taking opioids were all cut in half.

Here’s an even better view…

Ohio allows for treatment of opioid dependence for 18 months without it being allowed in the claim.

I can’t say enough about what Ohio BWC has done. While the data is telling indeed, I think of the families that are still intact, the moms and dads still alive, the employers still staffed by able and capable workers, the first responders somewhat less stressed.

Thank you, John Hanna, Dr Steve Woods, Dr Nick Trego, and Dr Terence Welsh – and your bosses at BWC and in state government, including Gov Kasich (R).