More Comp Claimants Turning to Heroin
An increasing number of workers’ comp patients who are addicted to opioid painkillers are now turning to heroin.
Experts talk about the growing problem, and how it could lead to more lawsuits against employers and others within the workers’ comp system. They also discuss how to spot red flags of possible heroin abuse, and ways to minimize use among workers’ comp patients — starting with more responsible painkiller prescribing to reduce opioid painkiller addiction, “the strongest risk factor for heroin addiction,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Indeed, 45 percent of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers, the CDC contends. Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, and more than 8,200 people died in 2013.
Switching to heroin could “absolutely” lead to lawsuits, said Joseph Paduda, principal of Health Strategy Associates in Syracuse, N.Y. and president at the PBM consortium, CompPharma LLC.
“If an injured worker is on opioids and the workers’ comp payer cuts them off, then they might switch to heroin,” Paduda said. “Potentially the payer could find out and not cover their claim anymore, which could trigger a lawsuit for getting them addicted in the first place. I have no idea if it’s a viable case, but attorneys in many states can be quite creative.”
While utilization of opioids has dropped considerably in states like Texas that have made it more difficult for workers’ comp patients to get opioids, there is concern that some patients who had their opioid prescriptions cancelled are now resorting to heroin, he said. Other states like Ohio are now adopting a much more rigorous approval process for the initial use of opioids, with an even greater focus on patients prescribed long-acting opioids and renewals of prescriptions for longer than a few weeks.
“Ohio is doing something fundamentally different,” Paduda said. “The state is carefully planning its approach to addressing long-term opioid patients with an eye towards ensuring addiction treatment is available if and when workers’ comp patients need it.”
“Potentially the payer could find out and not cover their claim anymore, which could trigger a lawsuit for getting them addicted in the first place. … attorneys in many states can be quite creative.” — Joseph Paduda, principal, Health Strategy Associates; president, CompPharma
Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer at New York City-based Phoenix House substance abuse treatment centers, said that people who become addicted to opioids and are having trouble maintaining a supply of painkillers are likely to switch to heroin if they live in an area where it is available. However, even though they may switch to heroin, prescription opioids are usually preferred because the medications are pure and the people are less likely to be arrested than if they were buying heroin from a drug dealer.
“Heroin use increased because the number of people who developed opioid addiction from exposure to prescription opioids increased sharply over the past 20 years,” Kolodny said. “The medical community needs to prescribe more cautiously so that we stop creating new cases of addiction.”
Mark Pew, senior vice president at Prium in Duluth, Ga., said that as it becomes more difficult for workers’ comp patients to secure opioids if they are misusing or abusing them, many of those patients switch to heroin because it’s less expensive and easier to obtain on the street than prescription drugs.
“There is great concern, and rightfully so, that lawsuits on parties within the workers’ comp system could be forthcoming from patients claiming it was the doctor’s fault they became addicted to opioids and then heroin,” Pew said. “The liability costs associated with lawsuits and death benefits could be even greater with the addition of heroin because of its even higher possibility of abuse and misuse.”
Brigette Nelson, senior vice president, Workers’ Compensation Clinical Management Express Scripts in Cave Creek, Az. said that it’s really important to flag problematic claims, when workers “may be going off the rails before they start using heroin.”
“Physicians can monitor for medication abuse, as well as heroin use, with urine drug testing,” Nelson said. “Physicians can also check for needle tracks.”
“The medical community needs to prescribe more cautiously so that we stop creating new cases of addiction.” — Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer, Phoenix House
Workers’ comp specialists can also check if the use of multiple medications is overly high, which can also lead to use of illicit drugs, she said. Express Scripts’ Morphine Equivalent Dose (MED) management program can help them with this, she said. The potency of various opioids can be equated to one another and to morphine. If someone is taking a strong opioid or multiple prescriptions, the values can be added to determine if the person is over a particular trigger limit.
The MED value can be calculated at the point of sale for a particular prescription, and other prescriptions coming from other pharmacies can be added, to determine if all of the prescriptions are over the recommended guidelines.
“We can flag these claims, and then the workers’ comp adjuster would need to authorize the prescription fill is it is appropriate for the patient,” Nelson said. “We also reach out to physicians to let them know the patient has exceeded the MED limit. This is also good in that it gives physicians a prescription history, as sometimes they may not know about prescriptions from different physicians.”
It’s really important that payers proactively manage opioid utilization and review concurrent therapy to ensure safe use, she said.
“The key is early intervention before it comes a problem,” Nelson said. “That’s where we come in as the PBM. Our programs can help prevent abuse or misuse of opioids, which in turn can prevent the potential for downstream addictions to illicit drugs like heroin.”
The most important thing is to prevent patients who do not have severe conditions from receiving opioids — “period,” said Gary M. Franklin, research professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington.
“There is no evidence supporting the use of opioids for non-specific musculoskeletal conditions, headaches or fibromyalgia,” Franklin said. “If a prescription is needed, generally it should not go beyond 30 days. If a patient takes opoids for four to six weeks and then tries to withdraw, they will experience physical withdrawal because they are already very likely dependent, and that is the first step towards addiction.”
The CDC also recommends that health care providers use prescription drug monitoring programs and ask patients about past or current drug and alcohol use prior to considering opioid treatment; prescribe the lowest effective dose and only the quantity needed for each patient; link patients with substance use disorders to effective substance abuse treatment services; and support the use of FDA-approved MAT options (methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone) in patients addicted to prescription opioid painkillers or heroin.
Risk & Insurance Wins Four National AZBEES
At an awards banquet in New York on July 24, The American Society of Business Publication Editors awarded Risk & Insurance® four 2015 National Azbee Awards, which recognize trade publications for superior editorial content.
The awards were garnered for cover illustrations, work from our United Kingdom-based columnist and a special section reporting on emerging cyber threats across a spectrum of industries.
Designer and illustrator Kristian Rodriguez earned a silver and a bronze award for cover illustrations.
National silver winner for best cover
Silver went to his ominous depiction of dark feathers floating down to a cracked pavement against a dreary gray background, the cover art for the magazine’s August 2014 Black Swan issue. The magazine’s Black Swan coverage details risks that strike infrequently but with catastrophic severity.
A bronze was awarded for Rodriguez’s Oct. 15, 2014 cover art for a story about the role of robotics in transforming the U.S. workplace.
Echoing the article’s headline, “Helping Hands,” Rodriguez created a nimble robot hand plucking letters out of the Risk & Insurance® masthead topping the page.
National bronze winner for best cover
Roger Crombie, author of the regular Risk & Insurance® print column “Roger’s Soapbox,” won national silver in the category of Regular Column, Contributed, for two discourses that featured his ready wit.
The first, “The Dawn of De-Evolution” published in April 2014, chastises mankind for allowing the distraction of cell phones to result in hunched backs and accidental injuries and deaths, and causing headaches for insurers.
Crombie, it should be noted, foregoes carrying a cell phone “because I am neither the Queen of England nor a brain surgeon.”
The second Crombie column, “A Frightening Fish Story,” that ran in May 2014, asks what policy might cover a haunted house that faces a lawsuit after hosting a fish-swallowing contest. One contestant was hospitalized for four days after attempting to down a live bluegill whole, and sued the attraction for negligence, liability, emotional distress and fraud.
Just proof, Crombie argues, that the insurance news world is not nearly as dull as some perceive it to be. His column appears in every issue, delivering his keen observations with unsparing candor.
Risk & Insurance® also won a national bronze in the Special Section category. The award-winning coverage focused on emerging cyber risks.
The package of stories was published in April 2014. The lead story, “Cyber: the New CAT,” by Michelle Kerr and Joel Berg, made the case that cyber risk is a foundation-level risk across all industries, and must be approached as aggressively as any other CAT-level exposure.
“Critical Condition,” by Michelle Kerr, delved into how interconnected medical devices present huge dangers for the health care industry.
“Disabled Autos,” by Gregory DL Morris, explored the cyber risks associated with driverless cars.
“Unmanned Risk,” by Janet Aschkenasy, discussed the possibility of terrorist groups hacking drones to use as weapons or for intelligence gathering.
In “An Electrifying Threat,” Anne Freedman and Gregory DL Morris outlined cyber risks looming for the energy sector.
This isn’t the first time Risk & Insurance® won a national award for its emerging risks coverage. In 2013, Risk & Insurance® won national gold in the Special Section category for its 2012 coverage of the most dangerous emerging risks.
“Winning awards is not something we focus on, but it’s exciting to be recognized by our peers on a national level,” said Matthew Kahn, publisher and executive editor of Risk & Insurance®.
A Global Perspective
As any traveler knows, the world is full of uncertainty and dangerous places, where the challenges of simply trying to run a profitable business far from home are complicated by even greater risks, such as political violence, civil unrest, credit risk, corruption, expropriation of private assets by the government, and more.
Anyone doubting this need only take a look at current events. Some 70 percent of the world’s nations currently have serious corruption problems throughout their governmental and civil service framework. Nearly 40 percent of all nations are experiencing some form of significant civil unrest. Signs of economic distress are everywhere, from falling oil prices to Eurozone debt crises to economic slowdown in China.
Despite such geopolitical risks, the world still needs its businesses to continue running amid dangers that range from warfare and terrorism to punishing economic conditions caused by international sanctions, to simple graft and hostility toward foreigners.
For global and multinational companies, keeping an eye on their political risk profile is as important as handling worker safety, environmental impact, products liability, or any other insurable risk. Thankfully, political risk exposures are insurable as well, and Starr Companies is there to provide its clients with robust political risk insurance coverage, a suite of unique support services that truly is second to none, and the ability to educate clients on how to manage their political risk.
Political risk hazards generally fall into one of the following categories:
Breach of Contract and Non-Honoring of Financial Obligations
These related hazards involve the failure of a local actor to uphold their contractual or financial obligations to a foreign investor, and the inability or unwillingness of local authorities to intercede on the foreign investor’s behalf. This is perhaps the most common form of political risk hazard, as it is a major problem in any environment where there is substantial economic instability and/or corruption.
Confiscation of Property
Also known as “expropriation,” “ownership risk” and “nationalization,” this is when a government seizes property or assets without compensating the owners for them. An overt example of expropriation would be a revolutionary government seizing an office building or a factory belonging to a foreign-owned corporation. An example of creeping expropriation would be a series of successive events by a government to gradually deprive an investor of their property rights.
This is when the local laws change in such a way as to constrict foreign investors’ economic activity in some way. It could range from creeping expropriation to changing taxation or labor laws that might simply make it far less profitable or far less efficient for a foreign entity to operate in a local jurisdiction.
Inconvertability of Currency
Also known as “transfer risk,” this is when a government takes action to prevent the conversion of local currency to another form of currency, making it difficult or impossible for foreign investors to transfer their profits elsewhere. This tends to happen in countries undergoing some kind of political crisis, like when Zaire—now the Democratic Republic of Congo—declared a new national currency in 1980.
Property or income losses stemming from violence committed for political purposes, including, but not limited to declared and undeclared warfare, hostile actions taken by foreign or international forces, civil war, revolution, insurrection and civil strife (politically motivated terrorism or sabotage).
Kidnap and Ransom
Political violence might also manifest itself as a kidnap, ransom and extortion hazard, but that is typically covered by a separate, specialized policy.
To protect against these risks, insurers can provide comprehensive and custom-tailored political risk solutions, which at a client’s request can be broadened to cover investment contract repudiation, currency inconvertibility and political violence. Such policies typically last for periods of 5 to 10 years. Protected assets for this coverage include fixed assets (e.g., a factory, farm, warehouse or office), mobile assets (e.g., harvested natural resources, raw or manufactured inventory or mobile equipment), leased assets (e.g., aircraft, watercraft or construction vehicles) and investment interests in assets abroad (e.g., money dedicated to funding a foreign project, held in a host country bank and subject to expropriation).
Kidnap & ransom coverage protects company personnel and family by providing financial reimbursement for such an event. Depending on the insurer, some K&R programs also provide independent expert consultancy before and after a potential act of kidnapping, ransom or extortion.
Great insurance coverage isn’t enough to adequately protect against political risk, however. Businesses need extra support to stay on top of their exposures, and to know what the latest geopolitical developments are.
Starr Companies, for example, does this through Global Risk Intelligence, a specialized team of political risk experts with long-standing backgrounds in national intelligence and international affairs. GRI delivers to Starr clients a unique risk advisory service that spans the gamut of commercial property & casualty exposures. GRI also produces two assets that are extremely helpful. The first is the Executive Intelligence Brief, a world-class monthly analysis of ongoing geopolitical developments (especially in emerging markets) available exclusively to a carefully selected readership of top executives. The second is the Global Risk Matrix, a quarterly ranking of the overall political security risk of every country on the planet.
The world’s geopolitical landscape is changing at a remarkable pace, with new risks and uncertainties arising in even the unlikeliest of places. And yet, as business becomes ever more globalized, insurers can provide their clients with tailored coverage to absorb the losses that stem from political turmoil. By finding the right insurer, with the financial strength to cover their risks as well as the analytical acumen to help turn risk into opportunity, businesses can create partners in prosperity anywhere in the world.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Starr Companies. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.