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Physician dispensing, opiods and efforts to control same

The last session at WCRI focused on my least favorite topics – doc dispensed drugs and opioids. note findings are preliminary and subject to change.

From Dongchun Wang, doc dispensing.

My takeaways.

Price-focused controls don’t work to control physician dispensing.  Sure, they work over the short term, but the dispensing industry quickly circumvents those price controls by coming up with novel new drugs, increasing the volume, or finding higher base-cost drugs to dispense to their patients.

In fact, prices for doc dispensed drugs-actually INCREASE quarter by quarter post-implementation of price-based controls.

For those of us who’ve been stuck fighting a barely even battle against the profiteering crappy docs and their supporters who do this, this is NOT new news.

Perhaps the to-be-released study will energize payers and employers to finally ban doc dispensing, and/or drive adoption of pharmacy direction (this last is the only real solution), we’ve seen doc dispensing rise even in states that technically ban or severely restrict doc dispensing


Opioids.  Vennela Thumula PhD talked about opioids.  Double Argh.

Okay, the good news is the amount of opioids per claim has decreased somewhat over the last few years, with almost every state seeing a drop (except WI).

  • About 30% of patients that get opioids only get one script – which is fine.  Acute injury, quick treatment, all good…
  • but 70% of so get more than one – and therein lies the issue.
  • NY LA and PA have much higher opioid usage than the average, with NY and LA patients getting well over 3000 MEDs per claim. THIS IS INSANE.
  • the average worker in Louisiana got 7 scripts, due largely to the large percentage of workers who used opioids for more than six months.
  • A significant percentage of opioid-taking claimants were also dispensed benzodiazepines.  WTF are these people thinking?

Drug testing has increased over the last few years – which is fine, except that the top 5% of claimants in LA are getting tested 11 times for 12 substances per test – and the average test costs just under $1200.

This is almost certainly driven by physician-owned labs, which have proliferated over the last few years.  (full disclosure – Millennium Health is a consulting client).

What does this mean for you?

We have a very, very long way to go.

Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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