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.
One Quarter of Opioid Patients Become Long-Term Users
A history of substance abuse, a greater burden of illness, and smoking may drive a progression from shorter to longer term opioid use. The Mayo Clinic found those were among the strongest risk factors leading to episodic or long-term opioid use.
Researchers looked at a sample of patients in an area near the Minnesota-based clinic who received prescriptions for opioids during 2009. The patients’ opioid uses were categorized into the following time frames:
- Short term — episodes of opioid prescribing that lasted 90 days or less.
- Episodic — episodes of opioid prescribing lasting longer than 90 days if the total days supply was less than 120 and the total number of prescriptions was fewer than 10.
- Long term — episodes of opioid prescribing lasting longer than 90 days with 120 or more total days supply or 10 or more prescriptions.
“Overall, 293 patients received 515 new opioid prescriptions in 2009,” the authors noted. “Of these, 61 (21 percent) progressed to an episodic prescribing pattern and 19 (6 percent) progressed to a long-term prescribing pattern.”
Prescriptions included in the study sample were all those in the opioid analgesic drug class: all formulations of oxycodone, morphine, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, meperidine, codeine, and methadone. The most common reason for the first prescription was surgery or another painful procedure, followed by musculoskeletal pain and trauma.
For each of the three prescribing patterns, the authors looked at characteristics such as education, the presence of depression or anxiety, additional psychiatric illness, substance abuse, nicotine use, and CCI — severity and age weighted sum of diseases.
“In univariate models, patients in the group who received the episodic prescribing pattern were more likely to be past or current nicotine users than were patients in the group who received the short-term prescribing pattern. Patients in the group with the long-term prescribing pattern were more likely to have lower education levels, a past or current history of nicotine use, a past or current history of substance abuse, and a higher CCI than were patients in the group who received the short-term prescribing pattern,” the report explained. “When those in the episodic and long-term groups (i.e., who received more than 90 days of prescriptions) were considered together and compared with those in the short-term group, the former were more likely to have a past or current history of nicotine use, other psychiatric diagnosis, and a past or current history of substance abuse.”
The authors found that smokers with chronic pain were more likely to use opioids and in greater quantities than nonsmokers with chronic pain. They said research suggests an interaction between the pharmacology of nicotine and opioids.
“A reciprocal relationship has been observed between opioid and nicotine consumption,” they explained. “Increases in opioid use have been associated with increases in nicotine use, and increases in nicotine use have been associated with increases in opioid consumption.”
Medical providers should screen patients for past or current tobacco use and past or current substance abuse before starting an opioid prescription, the authors advised. “This would allow the clinician to assess the risk of longer-term prescribing and would provide the opportunity to counsel the patient about these potential risk factors before actually receiving the initial prescription.
Pathogens, Allergens and Globalization – Oh My!
In 2014, a particular brand of cumin was used by dozens of food manufacturers to produce everything from spice mixes, hummus and bread crumbs to seasoned beef, poultry and pork products.
Yet, unbeknownst to these manufacturers, a potentially deadly contaminant was lurking…
What followed was the largest allergy-related recall since the U.S. Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act became law in 2006. Retailers pulled 600,000 pounds of meat off the market, as well as hundreds of other products. As of May 2015, reports of peanut contaminated cumin were still being posted by FDA.
Food manufacturing executives have long known that a product contamination event is a looming risk to their business. While pathogens remain a threat, the dramatic increase in food allergen recalls coupled with distant, global supply chains creates an even more unpredictable and perilous exposure.
Recently peanut, an allergen in cumin, has joined the increasing list of unlikely contaminants, taking its place among a growing list that includes melamine, mineral oil, Sudan red and others.
“I have seen bacterial contaminations that are more damaging to a company’s finances than if a fire burnt down the entire plant.”
— Nicky Alexandru, global head of Crisis Management at AIG
“An event such as the cumin contamination has a domino effect in the supply chain,” said Nicky Alexandru, global head of Crisis Management at AIG, which was the first company to provide contaminated product coverage almost 30 years ago. “With an ingredient like the cumin being used in hundreds of products, the third party damages add up quickly and may bankrupt the supplier. This leaves manufacturers with no ability to recoup their losses.”
“The result is that a single contaminated ingredient may cause damage on a global scale,” added Robert Nevin, vice president at Lexington Insurance Company, an AIG company.
Quality and food safety professionals are able to drive product safety in their own manufacturing operations utilizing processes like kill steps and foreign material detection. But such measures are ineffective against an unexpected contaminant. “Food and beverage manufacturers are constantly challenged to anticipate and foresee unlikely sources of potential contamination leading to product recall,” said Alexandru. “They understandably have more control over their own manufacturing environment but can’t always predict a distant supply chain failure.”
And while companies of various sizes are impacted by a contamination, small to medium size manufacturers are at particular risk. With less of a capital cushion, many of these companies could be forced out of business.
Historically, manufacturing executives were hindered in their risk mitigation efforts by a perceived inability to quantify the exposure. After all, one can’t manage what one can’t measure. But AIG has developed a new approach to calculate the monetary exposure for the individual analysis of the three major elements of a product contamination event: product recall and replacement, restoring a safe manufacturing environment and loss of market. With this more precise cost calculation in hand, risk managers and brokers can pursue more successful risk mitigation and management strategies.
Product Recall and Replacement
Whether the contamination is a microorganism or an allergen, the immediate steps are always the same. The affected products are identified, recalled and destroyed. New product has to be manufactured and shipped to fill the void created by the recall.
The recall and replacement element can be estimated using company data or models, such as NOVI. Most companies can estimate the maximum amount of product available in the stream of commerce at any point in time. NOVI, a free online tool provided by AIG, estimates the recall exposures associated with a contamination event.
Restore a Safe Manufacturing Environment
Once the recall is underway, concurrent resources are focused on removing the contamination from the manufacturing process, and restarting production.
“Unfortunately, this phase often results in shell-shocked managers,” said Nevin. “Most contingency planning focuses on the costs associated with the recall but fail to adequately plan for cleanup and downtime.”
“The losses associated with this phase can be similar to a fire or other property loss that causes the operation to shut down. The consequential financial loss is the same whether the plant is shut down due to a fire or a pathogen contamination.” added Alexandru. “And then you have to factor in the clean-up costs.”
Locating the source of pathogen contamination can make disinfecting a plant after a contamination event more difficult. A single microorganism living in a pipe or in a crevice can create an ongoing contamination.
“I have seen microbial contaminations that are more damaging to a company’s finances than if a fire burnt down the entire plant,” observed Alexandru.
Handling an allergen contamination can be more straightforward because it may be restricted to a single batch. That is, unless there is ingredient used across multiple batches and products that contains an unknown allergen, like peanut residual in cumin.
Supply chain investigation and testing associated with identifying a cross-contaminated ingredient is complicated, costly and time consuming. Again, the supplier can be rendered bankrupt leaving them unable to provide financial reimbursement to client manufacturers.
“Until companies recognize the true magnitude of the financial risk and account for each of three components of a contamination, they can’t effectively protect their balance sheet. Businesses can end up buying too little or no coverage at all, and before they know it, their business is gone.”
— Robert Nevin, vice president at Lexington Insurance, an AIG company
Loss of Market
While the manufacturer is focused on recall and cleanup, the world of commerce continues without them. Customers shift to new suppliers or brands, often resulting in permanent damage to the manufacturer’s market share.
For manufacturers providing private label products to large retailers or grocers, the loss of a single client can be catastrophic.
“Often the customer will deem continuing the relationship as too risky and will switch to another supplier, or redistribute the business to existing suppliers” said Alexandru. “The manufacturer simply cannot find a replacement client; after all, there are a limited number of national retailers.”
On the consumer front, buyers may decide to switch brands based on the negative publicity or simply shift allegiance to another product. Given the competitiveness of the food business, it’s very difficult and costly to get consumers to come back.
“It’s a sad fact that by the time a manufacturer completes a recall, cleans up the plant and gets the product back on the shelf, some people may be hesitant to buy it.” said Nevin.
A complicating factor not always planned for by small and mid-sized companies, is publicity.
The recent incident surrounding a serious ice cream contamination forced both regulatory agencies and the manufacturer to be aggressive in remedial actions. The details of this incident and other contamination events were swiftly and highly publicized. This can be as damaging as the contamination itself and may exacerbate any or all of the three elements discussed above.
Estimating the Financial Risk May Save Your Company
“In our experience, most companies retain product contamination losses within their own balance sheet.” Nevin said. “But in reality, they rarely do a thorough evaluation of the financial risk and sometimes the company simply cannot absorb the financial consequences of a contamination. Potential for loss is much greater when factoring in all three components of a contamination event.”
This brief video provides a concise overview of the three elements of the product contamination event and the NOVI tool and benefits:
“Until companies recognize the true magnitude of the financial risk and account for each of three components of a contamination, they can’t effectively protect their balance sheet,” he said. “Businesses can end up buying too little or no coverage at all, and before they know it, their business is gone.”
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Lexington Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.