Weeding Out The Truth About Medical Marijuana

Medical MarijuanaMarijuana is illegal under federal law. But workers’ compensation stakeholders who think that gives them license to ignore the issue are making a huge mistake, according to experts.

 

The cannabis industry is growing by leaps and bounds and shows no signs of slowing. Most states now allow the drug in some form. Judges are increasingly siding with injured workers who want to be reimbursed for the drug.

 

Employers, especially those who do business in multiple states, need to know how to ensure a safe workplace, be fair to all employees and protect themselves from litigation. Staying abreast of the latest developments is key.

 

 

Some Basics

 

Terminology. Keeping up with the lingo can be exhausting, but payers who do have an edge when it comes to addressing the issue. Some important terms include:

 

  • THC: A cannabinoid that produces the ‘high’ that users experience
  • CBD: A molecule touted as having potential medical benefits without the psychoactive properties of THC.
  • Hemp: A strain derived from the species cannabis sativa, as is marijuana, but with lower concentrations of THC and more CBD. The Agricultural Improvement Act signed into law recently removed hemp from the list of Schedule I controlled substances and made it an ordinary agricultural commodity. CBD derived from hemp has recently become widely available.
  • Strains: There are hundreds of combinations, mainly from three strains:
  1. Indica — produces a more relaxing effect
  2. Sativa — is more energizing
  3. Ruderalis — has low levels of both THC and CBD.
  • Budtender: The person at a ‘dispensary’ who gives advice about which varieties may be more helpful to the user

 

 

Physical Effects

 

Whether and to what extent marijuana helps with various physical or mental conditions is a matter of debate, since the federal prohibition of the drug stymies research on it. But there is some evidence it may help alleviate chronic and neuropathic pain, cancer pain, and spasticity. Some people claim it can also help with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, depression or acute pain. There are conflicting studies about whether marijuana can serve as a viable substitute for opioids, but the most recent study suggests it does not.

 

High doses of marijuana, especially when it’s ingested as an edible, can have serious repercussions. Some users have gone to emergency rooms believing they are having a heart attack. In addition to the potentially positive impacts, the drug can also cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including:

 

  • Rapid, irregular heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Lung irritation
  • Coughing, wheezing
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Various exacerbations of serious psychiatric conditions such as depressions, bipolar illness, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

 

 

Problems for Employers, Payers

 

Drug testing to identify marijuana users high on the job may be counterproductive. Since the drug stays in the body long after its effects have worn off, the tests can’t really determine if a person is impaired. Workers in safety-sensitive jobs are another story, as they are prohibited from performing their jobs if there is any sign of drug use identified.

 

However, for other workers, employers may notice certain signs that could indicate an employee is under the effects of marijuana:

 

  • Slowed responses and reflexes
  • Lethargy, drowsiness
  • Slowed perception of time; appearing in an almost dreamlike state
  • Unfocused
  • Impaired memory function
  • Red eyes or dilated pupils

 

Employers who suspect their workers of being high on the job must be careful about how they respond. Unless they have clear-cut policies that allow for drug testing when they suspect impairment, organizations can be accused of discriminating against certain employees. Working with an attorney and developing a solid policy that is communicated to all employees is imperative.

 

Another major concern for payers concerns the logistics for reimbursement. It’s not like other, FDA-approved drugs, where a physician prescribes a certain dose, number of pills per day and timeframe for use. Physicians in medical marijuana states can only recommend using the drug. It’s then up to the user, working with the budtender, to determine what might help.

 

The many different strains mean one purchase may be different from another. There are many inconsistencies in terms of the quality and purity as well as labeling — within states and even within communities.

 

However, as the pharmaceutical companies begin to derive purer and more targeted compounds from marijuana, we will likely see more employees using prescribed, rather than marijuana dispensary, formats which will reduce the rationale for using the latter, and will provide safer, efficacious and accurately dosed drugs.

 

The best advice from experts is to work closely with all stakeholders involved, including the injured worker. Working with the physician, for example, might persuade her to prescribe a treatment or medication other than marijuana. At the very least, it could help determine how much and for how long the drug will be used. Having more and better communication with the injured worker can provide insight into whether and why he believes marijuana is the best option and help determine the anticipated expense.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The issue of medical marijuana is not an easy one for workers’ compensation stakeholders right now, but it should not be ignored. Regardless of personal feelings about the issue, organizations are increasingly being forced to deal with it. Those who understand their states’ laws and the various nuances involved, and work with other stakeholders will be best prepared when it arises.

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center .

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: http://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2019 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

NCCI Report Highlights Early Identification of Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription Drug AbusePrescription drugs continue to contribute to a significant portion of medical costs in workers’ compensation claims nationwide.  This is due in part to opioid addiction and its negative impact.  Gains are being made, which means proactive members of the claim management team need to be continually engaged and implement best practices to avoid addiction and reduce the portion of claims consumed literally by prescription drugs.

 

 

NCCI Report Highlights the Problem

 

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) recently released a report regarding prescription drug costs in workers’ compensation case.  The report sets forth the following encouraging conclusions:

 

 

  • While the prescription drug share of medical costs in workers’ compensation cases is at 13.7%, this amount declined by 2% in 2015, and 4% in 2016; and

 

  • Main drivers in prescription drug usage include Lyrica, OxyContin, and Gabapentin, which account for more than 15% of prescription drug costs in 2016.

 

While some of these trends are positive, it should still be understood that more can be done by proactive claim handlers to control the costs of prescription drugs in workers’ compensation claims and run a more effective program.

 

 

Early Identification of Prescription Drug Abuse

 

All interested stakeholders should be on the look-out of for overuse and abuse of prescription drugs.  Signs of misuse include the following:

 

  • Identification of injured employee’s with risk factors that include past/present history of substance abuse, family history of substance abuse, and various psychological and/or psychiatric conditions;

 

  • Injured employees that specifically request prescription medications by their name brand and refuse to accept generics; and

 

  • Instances where someone regularly claims to lose their prescription drugs and is requesting a refill.

 

The existence of a pain management agreement is a common feature in most workers’ compensation laws in instances where an employee is using opioid-based drugs.  This agreement should be strictly followed.  There should also be a renewed effort on the part of everyone to direct an injured employee back to work, even if it is in a light-duty/sedentary capacity.  Studies suggest strong return-to-work efforts significantly reduce the medical spend on any type of personal injury claim.

 

 

Multi-Faceted Approach to Reducing Prescription Medical Expenses

 

Proactive stakeholders in the workers’ compensation system can advocate for change to reduce the cost and human toll prescription drugs – mainly opioid-based – take on injured employees.  This includes an effective three-pronged approach.

 

  1. Prevent new cases of opioid-based prescription medication abuse from occurring: This all starts with the use of a pain management agreement – and making sure it is strictly enforced.  This zero-tolerance approach will ensure powerful pain medications are not misused or abused.  Terms within the agreement should include exactly how the medications are to be used, random drug testing and consequences for false/positives, failed tests and missed testing, how replacement medications are to be dispensed and where all prescriptions are to be filled – avoiding physician dispensing protocols.

 

  1. Treat people who are addicted with compassion: No process is foolproof, and anyone can become addicted.  It is important to treat individuals who suffer from this consequence are treated with respect and dignity.  All reasonable and necessary forms of treatment should be made available; and

 

  1. Use drug utilization measures to better target prevention and treatment: This is one of the most effective tools available to members of the claim management team in combating the abuse and overuse of opioid-based prescription medications.  Drug utilization review (DUR) is the process of reviewing all aspects of prescription drug usage – prescribing, dispensing, and use of medication.  It examines the individual usage of someone against predetermined criteria based on evidence-based medicine to ensure an effective and efficient result.  The recent NCCI report also credited the effective use of DUR in driving down the amount of money spent on prescription drugs in workers’ compensation claims.

 

 

Conclusions

 

There are many negative consequences of prescription drug abuse and misuse in workers’ compensation cases.  Steps are being taken to hold these adverse effects in check and also reducing workers’ compensation program costs.  This can be accomplished by implementing an effective approach that includes drug utilization review in your program.

 

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center.

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2019 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

11 Tips for Safe Use of NSAIDS to Treat Pain in Workers’ Compensation

NSAIDs in Workers' CompensationThere’s good news about the latest drug usage in the workers’ compensation, although it comes with a word of caution. The good news, according to the latest Drug Trend Report from myMatrixx is that the use and spend on opioids have once against decreased. Alternative medications treatments are being used more often to treat pain. While that’s good in the effort to prevent unnecessary use of opioids, one class of medications need to be taken with caution.

 

NSAIDs — nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs— have become one of the medications of choice to treat pain. These can be very effective and don’t carry the risks of addiction or dependence of opioids. However, the problem is the potential negative effects on the cardiovascular system. Care needs to be taken when prescribing them, especially to older workers.

 

The situation is something of a Catch-22; older injured workers often have pain, but they are typically more vulnerable to problems of the cardiovascular system. Payers can help protect injured workers who are prescribed these medications by understanding the risks, educating patients and exercising caution.

 

 

NSAIDs and Cardiovascular Issues

 

NSAIDs are often used to treat mild to moderate pain. They are especially helpful for pain caused by inflammation, such as arthritis or a sports-type injury.

 

NSAIDs are drugs with analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antipyretic activity. Some of the commonly used over-the-counter varieties are ibuprofen, such as Motrin and Advil; and naproxen sodium, or Aleve and Anaprox. Prescription NSAIDs include Celecoxib, or Celebrex; and diclofenac, known as Cataflam and Voltaren. Aspirin, which is an NSAID, does not pose a risk of heart attack or stroke and is commonly used to prevent those conditions.

 

Gastrointestinal problems associated with NSAIDs are well known. But researchers have also found that these medications can increase blood pressure and lead to congestive heart failure, as well as acute myocardial infarction.

 

The Food and Drug Administration warned of the potential risks of heart attack or stroke from NSAIDs in 2005. Ten years later the agency strengthened its warning, based on the advice of an expert panel that had reviewed additional information.

 

The risk was especially noted when the drug rofecoxib, or Vioxx, was on the market. It was removed in 2004, after being associated with as many as 140,000 heart attacks in the U.S. during the five years it was sold. It prompted further research about the risks of heart attack and stroke from NSAIDs in general.

 

According to the FDA:

 

  • The risks of heart attacks and strokes increase even with short-term use of NSAIDs and may begin within a few weeks of taking the medications.
  • The higher the dose of NSAID, the higher the risk. Also increasing the risk is the length of time the medications are taken.
  • People most at risk are those who already have heart disease, although others can also be at risk.

 

Patients taking diuretics may be at the highest risk of heart attack or stroke, especially during the first few weeks of taking NSAIDs.

 

 

Preventing NSAID Risks

 

Taking NSAIDs for a few days to relieve pain generally carries just a small risk, for most people. Employers and payers can help ensure injured workers are less at risk of developing heart attacks or strokes from the medications through the following strategies:

 

  1. Monitor for signs and symptoms of adverse effects.
  2. Educate injured workers and family members on the risks, especially those more at risk.
  3. Prescribe the lowest dosage possible.
  4. Prescribing taking the drugs for only a limited period of time.
  5. Try alternative remedies for people who have heart disease, if at all possible.
  6. Do not take more than one type of NSAID at a time.
  7. Try alternative medications, such as acetaminophen. Be aware, however, that this drug can cause liver damage if the daily limit exceeds 4,000 milligrams or if the person drinks more than three alcoholic beverages a day.
  8. Suggest week-long NSAID ‘holidays’ on occasion.
  9. Advise the injured worker to get medical attention immediately if he experiences chest pain, shortness of breath or sudden weakness or difficulty speaking.
  10. For muscle or joint pain, suggest hot or cold packs or physical therapy before NSAIDS, for those more at risk.
  11. Injured workers already taking aspirin to prevent a heart attack should talk with their physician first, as some NSAIDs may hamper the aspirin’s effectiveness.

 

Conclusion

 

The workers’ compensation industry has made inroads in curbing the unnecessary use of opioids. However, care needs to be exercised before giving an injured worker a blanket recommendation or prescription for NSAIDS, especially for people who have pre-existing heart-related conditions. As with all medications, moderation is key.

 

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center .

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2019 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

Keeping Up With Clinical Trends – Use Of Hepatitis C Medications In Workers’ Compensation

Kathy-Tiemeier myMatrixxHepatitis C, a viral infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), can be spread through contaminated blood and other body fluids. The infection can range in duration from a few weeks (acute) to a life-long illness (chronic). Between 75% and 85% of the people who become infected with hepatitis C will develop the chronic form1, CHC, which now affects more than 3 million people in the U.S.2 CHC may lead to chronic liver diseases, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. With the 2011 arrival of newer therapies to treat HCV (specifically direct-acting antiviral therapies, or DAAs), alcohol-related liver disease now has surpassed HCV as the leading cause of liver transplantation in the U.S., and HCV as an indication for liver transplantation is expected to continue its decline.3

 

 

I have received a request for a medication to treat hepatitis C. Will you please tell me why hepatitis C drugs might be needed to treat an occupational injury?

 

While we don’t see a lot of hepatitis C patients in workers’ compensation, it may be appropriate for claims under certain situations. Occupational exposure to hepatitis C could result from needlesticks in some injured worker populations, such as healthcare personnel, first responders and other municipal workers. The risk of HCV infection following a needlestick or sharps exposure to HCV positive blood is approximately 0.1%.1Injured patients who received blood or organs from an HCV-positive donor also could be infected.

 

Unlike for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, no vaccine currently is available for hepatitis C.1 Further, not enough evidence is available to support the effectiveness of post exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, after potentially being exposed to HCV.4

 

 

Recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)5:

 

  • PEP is not recommended for hepatitis C.
  • PEP following an occupational needlestick does include antiviral drugs for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and vaccination for hepatitis B, however.
  • Pre-existing chronic infection:
    • The occupationally exposed worker should be tested within 48 hours of exposure to determine the presence of antibodies to the hepatitis C virus (anti-HCV).
    • Anti-HCV will be present if the exposed worker has previously been infected with hepatitis C. If positive, further testing and referral to care for pre-existing CHC infection may be needed.
  • Infection as a result of the occupational exposure:
    • Those who test negative within the first 48 hours should be tested for HCV RNA three or more weeks after exposure to determine whether HCV then exists in the exposed worker’s bloodstream, with referral for care for a positive test as a result of the occupational exposure.6
    • Patients may spontaneously clear an acute infection up to six months after exposure. Therefore, all exposed workers who test positive in less than six months should be tested again at least six months after exposure to determine existing infection status.

 

 

Are the newer hepatitis C drugs much different from the older ones and why are they so expensive?

 

In addition to the cost of treatment, the choice of medication treatment protocol should take into account the genetic makeup, which is known as the “genotype”, of the virus. Hepatitis C has seven recognized viral genotypes1. Knowing the genotype is important to determine the most appropriate medications once a person has been diagnosed with CHC. In the U.S., about 70% of CHC cases are genotype 11, which has a lower response rate to older hepatitis drugs like ribavirin and injectable pegylated interferon, than other genotypes.7

 

DAAs, the newer treatment options for CHC, are available in oral form, so they are more convenient to use. They are much more expensive than earlier drugs; but they produce substantially higher cure rates than the older medications, more than 90% for many patients in as little as eight weeks. Before DAAs were introduced, the success rate for previous HCV therapies was only about 41% and severe side effects often were associated with using them.8

 

Curing an exposed worker of the HCV infection prevents chronic liver disease and possible liver cancer or transplantation. In addition, DAA medications are effective for most patients without requiring multiple courses of therapy. Even at their high initial cost compared to other drugs, they typically cost much less than managing liver cancer or undergoing a transplant along with their corresponding follow-up treatments.

 

 

I have heard some of the newer hepatitis C drugs have generics. Can you provide details?

 

Yes. Authorized generics to Harvoni® (ledipasvir 90mg/sofosbuvir 400mg tablets) and Epclusa® (sofosbuvir 400mg/velpatasvir 100mg tablets) became available early 2019. Gilead Sciences, Inc., the manufacturer of both medications, made them accessible through a newly created subsidiary, Asegua Therapeutics LLC. The Average Wholesale Prices (AWP) for the generics are significantly less than the brand name medications.

 

 

Do DAAs have any drawbacks?

 

Treatment for CHC is evolving quickly, and so are treatment guidelines. The promising news is the DAAs that cure hepatitis C offer hope of eliminating it in the near future. Unfortunately, however, data from the CDC indicate the number of new HCV infections is on the rise. From 2010 to 2015 the number of acute hepatitis C cases reported to the CDC nearly tripled – mainly from increased injection-drug abuse. Improved case detection contributed to this increase as well, but to a much lesser degree. 9 Symptoms are often mild and vague in acute cases, making diagnoses difficult.

 

Not every patient is cured after one course of DAA treatment. A small percentage fail the initial therapy and need another round, usually with a different set of drugs. Hepatitis C will recur for some treated patients and others may be re-infected after CHC has been cured.

 

Another major concern related to the development of new HCV therapies is the emergence of resistance to DAA drugs. Drug resistance occurs when the hepatitis C virus no longer responds to treatment. This challenge to chronic HCV treatment is developing rapidly and it already has shown clinical impact on available DAA regimens. Drug-resistant viruses most frequently develop when drug doses are below therapeutic levels. However, they can also emerge when DAA therapy fails.10,11

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

As stated previously, within workers’ compensation, the prevalence of hepatitis C is rare. However, the higher cost of new drug therapies can make a significant impact on workers’ compensation payers even if only used by a small portion of their injured worker population. Curing the infection is important, though, to prevent progressive liver damage that can result in debilitating and costly outcomes.

 

 

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis C questions and answers for health professionals. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/hcvfaq.htm#section1. Last updated April 30, 2018. Accessed Dec. 7, 2018.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Population Affairs. Hepatitis C. https://www.hhs.gov/opa/reproductive-health/fact-sheets/sexually-transmitted-diseases/hepatitis-c/index.html. Last reviewed April 10, 2018. Accessed Dec. 7, 2018.
  3. Cholankeril G, Ahmed A. Alcoholic liver disease replaces hepatitis C virus infection as the leading indication for liver transplantation in the United States. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018;16(8):1356-1358. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2017.11.045.
  4. Hughes HY, Henderson DK. Postexposure prophylaxis after hepatitis C occupational exposure in the interferon-free era. Curr Opin Infect Dis. 2016;29(4):373-380. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5527758/. Accessed Dec. 7, 2018.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Information for healthcare personnel potentially exposed to hepatitis C virus (HCV). https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/pdfs/testing-followup-exposed-hc-personnel.pdf. April 2018. Accessed Dec.7, 2018.
  6. American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and Infectious Diseases Society of America. HCV testing and linkage to care. https://www.hcvguidelines.org/evaluate/testing-and-linkage. Last updated May 24, 2018. Accessed Dec. 7, 2018.
  7. NIH Consensus Statement on Management of Hepatitis C: 2002. NIH Consens State Sci Statements. 2002;19(3):1-46. https://consensus.nih.gov/2002/2002HepatitisC2002116html.htm. Archived. Accessed Dec. 7, 2018.
  8. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Twenty-five years of progress against hepatitis C: setbacks and stepping stones. http://phrma-docs.phrma.org/sites/default/files/pdf/Hep-C-Report-2014-Stepping-Stones.pdf. December 2014. Accessed Dec. 7, 2018.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Viral hepatitis. https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/statistics/2015surveillance/commentary.htm. Last updated June 19, 2017. Accessed Dec. 7, 2018.
  10. American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and Infectious Diseases Society of America. HCV resistance primer. https://www.hcvguidelines.org/evaluate/resistance. Last updated May 24, 2018. Accessed Dec. 7, 2018.
  11. Downward E. Drug resistance. HepatitisC.net. https://hepatitisc.net/treatment/drug-resistance/. Last reviewed March 2018. Accessed Dec. 7, 2018.

 

Kathy-Tiemeier myMatrixxAuthor Kathy Tiemeier, RPh, DAIPM, myMatrixx, Senior Clinical Account Executive. myMatrixx, an Express Scripts company, offers best-in-class pharmacy services for workers’ compensation programs that include: formulary and network management, utilization management, claims processing, home deliver and specialty pharmacy care and physician outreach programs. Working with the financial and risk management leaders of organizations, myMatrixx helps reduce the pharmacy cost associated with injured workers through innovative programs, business analytics and robust clinical protocols and expertise.

 

To learn more about our Clinical programs, email Clinical@myMatrixx.com.

Fentanyl in Workers’ Compensation – 4 Ways to Keep Injured Workers’ Safe

Fentanyl in Workers' CompensationFentanyl is 100x stronger than morphine. Carfentanil is 100x stronger than fentanyl. For injured workers who become addicted to prescribed opioids, that can be a death sentence.

 

Armed with information about the latest illicit drugs and a willingness to adopt certain strategies, payers can ensure their injured workers get the most appropriate treatment and avoid becoming victims of the latest drug nightmare.

 

 

Heroin, Fentanyl, and Analogues

 

The dangers of unnecessary opioid use have been well documented and publicized for several years. To its credit, the workers’ compensation has been at the forefront of efforts to stem what has become a national crisis. But often overlooked are injured workers who already are, or become addicted to these prescription drugs and turn to the illicit drug market for relief.

 

Opioid prescribing dropped by nearly 9 percent in 2017, according to some accounts. However, some injured workers who were already addicted turned to heroin, leading to fatal overdoses from that drug. More recently, additional drugs have taken over the market, many of which are far more potent than opioids.

 

As described in It’s Not Just Heroin Anymore, a white paper from myMatrixx, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have risen on the black market, mainly due to economics. Where heroine requires growing the opium poppy plant, harvesting the resin and processing it into the final product, fentanyl is purely synthetic, meaning it can be made easily and cheaply.

 

“Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine,” according to the research paper. “Even more alarming, however, is the fact that there are compounds with molecular structures closely similar to fentanyl (analogues) that are drastically more potent and these are now making their way into the hands of drug addicts.”

 

Illicit makers of fentanyl have found in analogues a way to circumvent the regulations of the Controlled Substances Act. The CSA classifies substances based on their chemical identity. Since the fentanyl analogues are not on the list as identified controlled substances, they, technically, are not illegal substances.

 

There are 4 fentanyl analogues that are legal for medical use, including:

  • Carfentanil, only for veterinary use, it is normally dispensed as an elephant tranquilizer. It is 100 x stronger than fentanyl. myMatrixx notes it has been linked to increases in overdoses in the Midwest in particular.
  • Sufentanil
  • Alfentanil

 

 

Other analogues of fentanyl are Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act.

 

 

What to Do

 

Most people prescribed opioids do not become addicts; however, anyone can develop an addiction. That is why it is imperative for workers’ compensation stakeholders to take every precaution to prevent addiction and address it appropriately in injured workers affected.

 

Here are ways payers can keep their injured workers safe:

 

  1. Educate providers. Despite their good intentions, some treating physicians are not trained in dealing with pain and/or opioid prescribing. They may also not follow evidence-based guidelines. Payers who develop solid relationships with network and/or area physicians can work with them and make sure they understand how to mitigate the risks.

 

For example, providers should know to:

 

  • Avoid prescribing opioids as a first line therapy
  • Screen patients for addiction before starting opioid therapy and continuously throughout treatment
  • Conduct urine drug screenings to monitor compliance
  • Be aware of, and adhere to formulary restrictions
  • Watch for, and address aberrant behavior
  • De-escalate or discontinue opioid therapy when necessary

 

  1. Provide strong clinical oversight, of physicians and pharmacies. Working with a pharmacy benefit manager and/or carrier is a place to start.
  2. Ensure providers are aware of alternative therapies to opioids and encouraged using them
  3. Intervene when there are concerns of opioid overprescribing. Having another physician talk with the provider can be effective. Insurers and/or third-party administrators often have medical personnel available to help.

 

 

Summary

 

The opioid crisis within the workers’ compensation system has improved in recent years. However, it is far from over. Stakeholders should stay up-to-date on the latest issues surrounding the problem and take steps to protect their injured workers.

 

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center .

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2019 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

Compounded Medications — 6 Solutions to Address a Nagging Issue for WC

Compounded Medications — 6 Solutions to Address a Nagging Issue for WC“There is no such thing as an FDA-approved compound medication.” That statement from myMatrixx Chief Clinical Officer Phil Walls underscores one of the main criticisms of these medications; while the drugs within the mixtures may all be FDA-approved, the specific combinations have not been tested and verified.

 

Safety is just one concern, however. The other is cost; they generally are priced significantly higher than similar, FDA-approved drugs or the sum of their underlying medications.

 

Both the utilization and the average cost of compounded medications in the workers’ compensation system has decreased in recent years. However, there are still pockets of excessive use. Stakeholders need to maintain a steady and continued focus on efforts to curb the unnecessary use of these pharmaceuticals.

 

 

Problems Cited

 

Compounds are a mixture of drugs intended for a specific patient’s use. According to an FDA report, they are beneficial only in limited circumstances; such as when other medications have failed, a patient is allergic to some of the inactive ingredients or has difficulty swallowing.

 

The federal agency inspected compounding facilities and noted the following “troubling conditions” that could lead to widespread harm of patients:

 

  1. Toaster ovens used for sterilization.
  2. Pet beds near sterile compounding areas.
  3. Operators are handling sterile drug products with exposed skin, which sheds particles and bacteria, among many others.

 

 

Latest Stats

 

Compounded medications are not considered first-line therapy for pain or other common conditions of injured workers according to industry guidelines, such as evidence-based medicine guidelines from Work Loss Data Institute, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and many other state-specific guidelines.

 

Compounds are available in many applications but are used in workers’ compensation most often as topical products for pain management. Usually, compounded medications are excluded from workers’ compensation formularies, and require prior authorization before they are dispensed to an injured worker.

 

State legislatures and organizations within the workers’ compensation system have taken steps in recent years to reduce the overuse of compounds, and they have been largely effective, according to the most recent Drug Trend Report in the workers’ compensation system from myMatrixx:

 

  • Spending on compounded medications declined 37.1 percent in 2017
  • It was the third year in a row that payer spending on compounded drugs has decreased
  • Compounds fell from the top 10 therapy classes
  • Utilization decreased 21.2 percent
  • The average cost of compounded medications decreased 15.9 percent

 

Along with the good news, however, are some disturbing reports.

 

Recent Problems

 

  • Pennsylvania. A recent report found that legislative reforms in the state resulted in cost savings on physician-dispensed drugs; however, they were offset by an increase in pharmacy dispensing of expensive compound drugs.

 

The legislation that took effect in December 2014 capped prices paid for physician-dispensed drugs and restricted physician’s ability to dispense opioids and other drugs to limited timeframes. The Workers Compensation Research Institute found there was an associated decrease in the number of injured workers who received physician-dispensed drugs. But they also found there was a “dramatic” increase in the prescription payments for compound drugs in the same years, which it attributed to the emergence of new pharmacies dispensing expensive drug products, especially compound drug prescriptions.

 

  • Texas. A loophole in the state’s drug formulary allowed compound prescriptions to be filled without obtaining preauthorization to confirm medical necessity. Regulators said the workers’ compensation system saw a 46.4 percent increase in compound prescriptions from 2010 to 2014, with the total cost of an average prescription more than doubling from $356 to $829.

 

 

Solutions

 

A new rule amended the Texas formulary to exclude any prescription drug created through compounding and required preauthorization for all compounded medications. That rule took effect July 1. Several additional states have adopted similar measures, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Nevada and Tennessee, and the idea is being considered in other jurisdictions.

 

The National Conference of Insurance Legislators is considering model legislation with clearly established guidelines for the reimbursement of pharmaceutical products in the workers’ compensation system. It includes language that would limit compound medications and require a critical evaluation with a physician documented statement of medical necessity or a utilization review of the compounded pharmaceutical products.

 

Stakeholders can work closely with state regulators and legislators. Additional ways to address the issue of excessive use of compound medications include:

 

  1. Working closely with a pharmacy benefit manager to ensure compounds are used judiciously and only when preauthorized
  2. Payment limits. Placing reimbursement limits per each script or per each ingredient in a compound medication
  3. Limiting the number of ingredients or the total cost per script
  4. Retrospective review. Allowing employers the option to deny coverage for a compound medication that has not been preauthorized
  5. Network pharmacies. Allowing employers to direct injured workers to specific pharmacies
  6. Including compound medications in the list of medications allowed only with preauthorization

 

 

Conclusion

 

The overuse of compound medications has been a troubling area for workers’ compensation stakeholders for several years. Strategies to address the issue are effective but must be continually employed and updated to ensure the problem is appropriately managed.

 

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center.

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2018 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

4 Ways to Stay Vigilant On Specialty Medication Costs

The latest trend in medications for injured workers is good news indeed — for the most part. But one tiny area can add up to major dollars. Spending on specialty medications increased 3.8 percent in 2017, according to the latest Drug Trend Report from myMatrixx, an Express Scripts company.

 

The fact that these drugs represent less than 1 percent of all medications used by injured workers is by no means a reason to overlook them. Because of the high costs associated with specialty medications, payers need to stay vigilant in understanding and addressing this small but growing segment of pharmacy spend.

 

 

The Issue

 

HIV, osteoarthritis, high cholesterol, and hepatitis C are among the comorbidities that require prescriptions for specialty medications. Just over 2 percent of injured workers used one of these drugs last year, accounting for 0.6 percent of all prescriptions filled and 6.3 percent of total pharmacy spend.

 

The most used specialty drug for injured workers in 2017 based on per-user-per-year spend according to myMatrixx, was Truvada®, used to treat pre-exposure to HIV. The cost per Rx was $1,019.11. The overall use of medications to treat HIV increased by 17.6 percent — not too surprising considering the need for them to treat workers with occupational exposure to needle sticks.

 

However, the use of medications to treat osteoarthritis rose 21.6 percent, while the cost per prescription increased 1.1 percent. The medication Synvisc had increased utilization of more than 58 percent. Driving the increase was likely the fact that workers may use the drug for repetitive stress injuries caused by activities that stress the knee joint — squatting, kneeling or lifting heavy objects.

 

The most expensive medication on the top 10 list is Epclusa®, with a price tag per Rx of $24,510. However, the drug has been hailed as curing the disease.

 

 

Affected Workers

 

Workers in a variety of occupations may need specialty drugs.

 

  • Medical workers may contract HIV and hepatitis C from blood-borne pathogens due to exposures to needlesticks.
  • Coal miners are at risk of black lung disease
  • Outdoor workers are vulnerable to Lyme disease.

 

Other reasons workers may need specialty drugs include postoperative blood clots and organ failure.

 

 

The Drugs

 

The top 10 specialty medications for 2017 according to myMatrixx were:

 

Drug                           Therapy Class

Truvada®                    HIV

Isentress®                   HIV

Synvisc-One®            Osteoarthritis

Xolair®                       Asthma

Enbrel SureClick®     Inflammatory conditions

Enoxaparin                  Anticoagulant

Repatha SureClick®   High cholesterol

Enbrel ®                     Inflammatory conditions

Xyrem®                      Anti-cataplectic agents

Epclusa®                    Hepatitis C

 

 

What to Do

 

It’s important for claims handlers and injured workers to have a clear understanding of how and why they are using these medications. They often require special handling instructions, for example. While denying a specialty medication to an injured worker in need would not be prudent, organizations can rein in costs and prevent overutilization by ensuring the drugs are used appropriately and judiciously.

 

  1. Train. Injured workers and those involved with the claim should know what side effects may be present with each specialty medication. Injured workers should be well informed about self-administering the medications.

 

  1. Monitor. These injured workers often need ongoing clinical monitoring and more intensive help from pharmacists and other caregivers to ensure they are taking the medications as prescribed, as patient adherence is crucial.

 

  1. Use specialists. Specialty pharmacies are better equipped and should be utilized for handling these medications, as they typically offer services not available at retail pharmacies. For example, on-staff nurses and physicians who are experts in the conditions and treatment are likely to be available only in specialty pharmacies.

 

  1. Engage physicians. Nurse case managers and other caregivers should work with treating physicians to make sure the injured worker is getting the proper medications and treatment. Some medications, including Repatha for high cholesterol, are appropriate only for a small number of patients and must be appropriately managed for patient safety and costs. Cancer medications are not usually included in workers’ compensation formularies and therefore may require prior authorization.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Specialty medications represent just a fractional component of prescriptions filled by injured workers, yet their costs can be nearly prohibitive. Since they offer an important lifeline for injured workers who truly need them, it’s important to see they are prescribed only where appropriate and are taken as prescribed.

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center .

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2018 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

Education is Key to Prevent Dangerous Opioid Drug Combinations

There is good news on the opioid front in the workers’ compensation system. According to the latest Workers’ Compensation Drug Trend Report from myMatrixx, an Express Scripts company,

 

  • Average spending on the drugs declined 11.9 percent
  • The percentage of injured workers using opioids for at least 30 days decreased by a couple of percentage points
  • The morphine-equivalent dose (MED) declined — with a 33.7 percent reduction in cumulative MED greater-than 100 and a 26.9 percent decrease in cumulative MED overall.

 

But the good news is tempered by the persistent problem of opioids prescribed in conjunction with other medications that together form a dangerous interaction. While the numbers were somewhat better in 2017 than the previous year, there are still too many injured workers being put at risk for overdoses and death. Education and outreach are needed to address the problem.

 

 

The Facts

 

According to the Drug Trend report, 74.2 percent of payers spent less on opioids in 2017 than in 2016. The average amount per claim declined to $342.57, compared to $388.80 in 2016. Opioids continued to be the most expensive and highly used class of drugs among injured workers and accounted for 24.1 percent of total pharmacy spend in 2017.

 

“While a decrease in the utilization of opioids is a positive sign for the workers’ compensation industry, there is still work to be done,” according to the report. “Nearly 40 percent of injured workers took an opioid along with a muscle relaxant, while 9 percent took an opioid and benzodiazepine. Taking these medications together can increase the risk of side effects and death from respiratory depression.”

 

The report showed that in 2017

 

  • 7 percent of injured workers took an opioid and a muscle relaxant, compared to 31.1 percent in 2016.
  • 3 percent took an opioid and a benzodiazepine last year, compared to 7.3 percent the previous year.
  • 5 percent took an opioid, a muscle relaxant and a benzodiazepine in 2016, compared to 3.1 percent in 2016.
  • Among injured workers using opioids for a short-term (less than a 30 days’ supply), 79.6 percent used opioids only, and4 percent used an opioid and a muscle relaxant.
  • For injured workers using opioids for more than 30 days, 36.1 percent filled both an opioid and a muscle relaxant.

 

Despite the slightly better news, there is still much to be done to curb the problem of combining opioids with certain other drugs. The federal government reports more than 30 percent of overdoses involving opioids also involve benzodiazepines or ‘benzos.’ These drugs are used to help anxiety, insomnia, muscle tension, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal. Both benzos and opioids suppress breathing, sedate users and impair cognitive functions.

 

Benzos are commonly sold under the names Valium, Xanax, and Klonopin. Additionally, some benzos, have muscle relaxant properties and are often prescribed for injured workers with muscle spasms.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines in 2016 that recommend clinicians avoid prescribing benzos concurrently with opioids whenever possible. Both opioids and benzo medications now carry warnings from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) highlighting the dangers of using the drugs together.

 

Research clearly shows the dangers of combining opioids with benzos. In a North Carolina study, for example, researchers found the overdose death rate among patients receiving both types of medications was 10 times higher than among those who only received opioids.

 

Part of the problem is that physicians may prescribe opioids on a long-term basis to treat acute or chronic pain, along with Valium to treat muscle spasms. Injured workers may also receive a Xanax prescription from a therapist if they suffer from anxiety.

 

 

Additional Medication Dangers

 

In addition to muscle relaxants and benzos, many other medications can be harmful when taken in combination with opioids. The FDA has issued warnings for physicians to limit their prescribing of the following for patients on opioids:

 

  • Antidepressants
  • Migraine medications
  • Antipsychotic drugs
  • Sleep medications
  • Serotonergic drugs, such as St. John’s wort.

 

There’s also evidence that antihistamines, which can cause drowsiness and sedation, may be problematic when combined with opioids. Finally, mixing alcohol with opioids can be deadly.

 

 

Risks

 

Over sedation and depressed breathing are two of the biggest problems resulting from a mix of opioids with other medications. Over sedation renders the person unable to wake up or respond to stimuli, creating risks for falling or slipping into a coma. Depressed breathing leads to a lack of oxygen to the brain and eventually shuts down vital organ systems, causing brain damage or death.

 

There are additional risks as well.

 

  • Serotonin Syndrome, a serious central nervous system reaction occurs when high levels of the chemical serotonin build up in the brain and cause toxicity. Symptoms may include agitation, hallucinations, rapid heart rate, excessive sweating, shivering, muscle twitching and trouble with coordination.

 

  • Adrenal insufficiency is a rare but serious condition in which adequate amounts of the hormone cortisol cannot be produced. Cortisol helps the body respond to stress. Symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, weakness, dizziness or low blood pressure.

 

  • Decreased sex hormone levels are associated with long-term use of opioids and can reduce the person’s interest in sex, or lead to impotence or infertility.

 

Knowing the symptoms of an overdose is important, and may include

 

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Unconsciousness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Slowed, irregular breathing
  • Confusion
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Blue lips
  • Snoring or gurgling sound in the throat

 

Educating patients and physicians about the dangers of combining opioids with many other medications is the first step to reduce the problem. Those managing claims should reach out to prescribers to ensure they understand the risks of interaction.

 

Conclusion

 

The combination of opioids with other medications should only be prescribed to patients who do not respond adequately to other treatments. If they do, the dosages and duration of each medication should be the lowest amount possible.

 

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center .

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2018 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

Practical Tips for Implementing Urine Drug Testing

Identifying and intervening with at-risk injured workers can save payers a bundle. These are the so-called “creeping catastrophic’ claims; the seemingly minor injuries expected to resolve within weeks that go south and before you know it, have been on the books for months or longer. They typically involve a variety of expensive medical procedures and medications, all of which are unsuccessful in alleviating the person’s pain.

 

This small fraction of workers’ compensation claims encompasses a majority of costs for payers. In recent years, the industry has done a better job of red-flagging these claimants earlier in the process. But an oft-overlooked tool to help is urine drug testing.

 

Urine Drug Testing helps physicians whether the patient is compliant with prescribed medications and/or using non-prescriber or illicit drugs.

 

But UDT has been ignored in many cases or overused in others. Using UDT judiciously can be a tremendous help.

 

 

The Stats

 

Recent research shows fewer than half the injured workers prescribed opioids received UDT – 17 percent to 50 percent. However, it also showed that of the top 5 percent of claims, UDT was conducted in 7 out of 10 physician visits.

 

Guidelines from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the Official Disability Guidelines and the Washington State Interagency vary regarding UDT frequency recommendation. But they all call for UDT at baseline when opioids are initially prescribed, then at various times throughout the year based on the injured worker’s risk stratification. Those at low risk may only need UDT every six months to annually; while high-risk claimants might need to be tested monthly.

 

The testing provides objective information to support improved clinical decision making, and helps medical providers:

 

  • Monitor and support their decisions about medications.
  • Identify recent use of prescription and illicit substances.
  • Detect medications that may negatively interact with other drugs.
  • Better communicate with their patients about their treatment plan.
  • Identify possible medication abuse and misuse.

 

A recent national sampling of more than 11,000 testing specimens revealed that fewer than half – 47 percent – adhered to their treatment regimens. That means more than half were not taking their medications as prescribed, taking other medications that were not prescribed, or used illicit substances. It is, therefore, incumbent on organizations to include UDT as part of their treatment plans for injured workers prescribed opioids – especially those at higher risk.

 

 

Whom to Test

 

Testing all injured workers might not be feasible or practical. However, there are certain injured workers who should undergo UDT. Identifying those at risk for delayed recovery can involve several steps. One is risk factors for substance abuse disorders, such as:

 

  • History of substance abuse disorder.
  • Family history of substance abuse.
  • Major psychiatric disorder.
  • Cigarette smoking.
  • Preadolescent sexual behavior.
  • Poor family support.

 

Injured workers with no history of substance abuse – their own or their families, and no psychiatric history or other risk factors would be considered at low risk for substance abuse disorders. They should undergo UDT when opioids are initially prescribed, then yearly. It should be noted, however, that a person’s risk level can change. Medical providers should be instructed to watch for aberrant behavior or any signs of a problem.

 

Injured workers with substance abuse histories of non-opioids, and/or factors such as family history of substance abuse or psychiatric histories would be considered at moderate to high risk and should be tested two to four times per year, as well as when they initially prescribed opioids.

 

 

Patients Found Abusing

 

Those who are currently abusing or addicted to substances and/or have psychiatric histories or other factors present would be considered high-risk patients. These patients should no longer receive opioids from their primary physician and be referred for addiction therapy.    These injured workers should be tested at least three times a year and possibly as much as monthly, according to the guidelines.

 

Data from pharmacies can also be helpful in identifying injured workers at higher risk. Pharmacy benefit managers can help identify at-risk claimants based on their patterns of medication use, for example.

 

Once an injured worker has undergone testing, it’s important to have an expert interpret the results and help determine whether and what type of intervention may be necessary. Expert interpretation is generally provided by the testing lab. An employer may also consider consulting with a medical advisor.

 

 

Practical Tips for Employers / Payers Implementing UDT

  • Avoid poor quality and abuse by not letting doctors complete their own testing.
  • Contract for a panel of tests with a reputable lab.
  • Direct testing from physicians to the preferred lab.

 

Conclusion

 

There are a variety of tools that can help early identification of injured workers at risk of poor outcomes. UDT can be valuable when it is done with the proper frequency, and when the results are accurately understood and acted upon.

 

 

 

Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center .

 

Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/

 

©2018 Amaxx LLC. All rights reserved under International Copyright Law.

 

Do not use this information without independent verification. All state laws vary. You should consult with your insurance broker, attorney, or qualified professional.

U.S. Workers’ Compensation Prescription Drug Spending Decreased 3.3 Percent in 2017

ST. LOUIS /PRNewswire/ — Workers’ compensation pharmacy spending decreased 3.3 percent in 2017, according to new data released by myMatrixx, an Express Scripts (NASDAQ: ESRX) company.

“By merging the core capabilities of Express Scripts and myMatrixx to deliver superior clinical expertise, market-leading client experiences and innovative technology-based solutions, myMatrixx is now uniquely positioned to serve workers’ compensation clients and injured workers,” said Phil Walls, RPh, Chief Clinical Officer for myMatrixx. “We’re doing more to help clients balance appropriate care for injured workers while keeping costs down.”

 

More than half of myMatrixx Workers’ Compensation plans reduced drug spending last year.

 

 

Curtailing the Opioid Epidemic

 

Spending on opioids declined 11.9 percent for workers’ compensation payers in 2017.

 

For decades, myMatrixx has championed safe and appropriate use of opioids through solutions that leverage data, educate those at risk for adverse events and ensure connectivity across the care continuum. In addition, many states have taken action to address the opioid crisis through a multifaceted approach involving state-specific formularies, opioid guidelines and limits on initial opioid dispensing days’ supply and/or morphine equivalent dose.

 

These factors resulted in 74.2 percent of workers’ compensation payers spending less on opioids in 2017 than in 2016.

 

“While a decrease in the utilization of opioids is a positive sign for the workers’ compensation industry, there is still work to be done,” said Brigette Nelson, senior vice president of workers’ compensation clinical management at myMatrixx.

 

myMatrixx research found dangerous drug combinations and long-term use of opioids still pose care and cost concerns. Nearly 40 percent of injured workers took an opioid along with a muscle relaxant, while nine percent took an opioid and benzodiazepine. Taking these medications together can increase the risk of side effects and death from respiratory depression.

 

By deploying a holistic approach to manage opioid use, myMatrixx works with physicians, pharmacists and injured workers to mitigate the concerns of drug interactions or overuse.

 

Additionally, myMatrixx noted by the eleventh year of injury, the cost per injured worker reached $3,402.07, with $1,862.36 spent on opioid medications. Among those with age of injury of 10 years or more, more than half filled an opioid medication in 2017.

 

 

Compounded Medications Decline Further

 

For the third year in a row, spending on compounded medications decreased – a decline of 37.9 percent in 2017, falling out of the top 10 therapy classes.

 

While compounded medications continue to be a focus because of their high cost, it is clear that effective management strategies can reduce unnecessary costs and waste associated with clinically unproven ingredients.

 

 

Specialty Medication Utilization Remains Low, but Growing

 

Spending on specialty medications to treat conditions such as HIV and osteoarthritis increased 3.8 percent in 2017. While these drugs represent less than 1 percent of all medications used by injured workers, the extreme high cost per prescription requires payers to stay vigilant.

 

“Payers who have injured workers with occupational exposure to needle-sticks often include HIV medications on their formulary to ensure quick access to work-related HIV prophylaxis therapy,” Nelson said. “This therapy class saw the highest spending among specialty medications.”

 

 

Other Key Findings of the Workers’ Compensation Drug Trend Report include:

 

  • Generic fill rate increased to 85.6 percent across our workers’ compensation payers in 2017. Yet, payers could have saved $80.8 million through an optimal mix of clinically appropriate generic options.

 

  • The average cost of a physician-dispensed medication was $270.70, compared to $108.49 for a pharmacy-dispensed medication. This means plans paid a $162 premium for physician-dispensed medications which bypass pharmacist review at the point of sale. Of the medications dispensed by physicians, nearly half are used to treat pain.

 

  • On average, payers spent $1421.36 per injured worker for prescription medications in 2017.

 

 

About the 2017 myMatrixx Drug Trend Report

 

The 2017 myMatrixx Workers’ Compensation Drug Trend Report is among the industry’s most comprehensive analyses of workers’ compensation drug spending in the U.S. In its 12th edition, the research examines de-identified prescription drug use data of injured workers with a pharmacy benefit plan administered by myMatrixx. The report also includes analysis of state and federal government regulations and their impact on pharmacy-related challenges in workers’ compensation.

 

In calculating trend, prescription drug use was considered for legacy Express Scripts clients with a stable injured-worker base, defined as having a change in user volume of less than 50 percent from 2016 to 2017.

 

The comprehensive review of trends in prescription drug spending for workers’ compensation plans is available at myMatrixx.com

 

 

About myMatrixx, an Express Scripts company

 

myMatrixx® is a full-service workers compensation pharmacy benefit management company focused on patient advocacy. By combining agile technology, clinical expertise and advanced business analytics, myMatrixx simplifies workers’ compensation claims management. Located in Tampa, Florida, myMatrixx has positioned itself as a thought leader in the workers’ compensation industry.

 

For more information, visit myMatrixx.com

 

Media Contacts:
Phil Blando
202-258-4978
PJBlando@express-scripts.com

 

Ellen Drazen
314-684-5355
EVDrazen@express-scripts.com

 

 

SOURCE myMatrixx

Related Links

http://www.mymatrixx.com

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