Nothing ado about much

That’s the quick take on the White House’ plans to attack the opioid crisis.

Briefly, it amounts to:

  • harsher enforcement of existing drug laws,
  • education using advertising to prevent addiction,
  • helping fund treatment and
  • helping addicts find jobs while in treatment.

The latter two make a lot of sense; the first two are futile, stupidly expensive, and simplistic at best.

The “war on drugs” has resulted in millions incarcerated, trillions in costs, thousands killed, and, surprise, people still do illicit drugs.

These are just statistics, and therefore meaningless. But it isn’t meaningless for me or my family.  A family member in law enforcement died in the line of duty; much of his career was in drug interdiction and his death resulted from that work. The drug war is akin to Afghanistan; we’re never, ever, ever going to “win”, because the war isn’t winnable.

As for education, unless you’re older like me, you may not remember Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. Lucky you.  These “education” programs don’t work…according to an NIH study, the campaign: “had no favorable effects on youths’ behavior” and may have actually prompted some to experiment with drugs, an unintended “boomerang” effect.

While the latter pair make eminent sense, there’s nowhere near enough money – and without money they’re just talking points.

We need at least $10 billion more a year for treatment, plus additional funding for Medicaid which pays for a major chunk of treatment.

There’s an argument that former President Obama took too long to recognize the opioid disaster and start working on solutions – and I’d agree.

That said, the current funding level represents a real decrease in funding, at a time when death rates are accelerating.

What does this mean for you?

We’re on our own. 

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Quick takeaways from CWCI’s annual meeting

One of the best conferences of the year is CWCI’s annual get together in Oakland California.

More information is packed into a morning than you’ll find in most multi-day events – and in a more entertaining format – and no one is more informative and entertaining than CWCI’s Alex Swedlow (I’m fortunate indeed to count Alex as a good friend and colleague).

First question – As Alex noted, way back in the pre-Triangle Shirtwaist fire days (no, I wasn’t around then), business claimed 95% of injuries were considered to be the fault of the workers – what is the actual number?

And why do many claims organizations/processes seem to operate as if that statistic is true today?

Okay, back to key takaeaways…

  • Average drug spend dropped 34% from 2012 to 2015 – Rx and DME combined amount to 8 percent of total spend of med payments at 24 months after inception
  • Opioid spend dropped dramatically, while NSAIDs went up.
  • Compared to all claims reported, Cumulative Trauma injuries have increased – a lot – since 2009. CWCI thoroughly debunked the contention by others that CT cases have decreased.
  • IMR decisions continue to uphold UR determinations more than nine times out of ten, a rate that’s held steady since 2014.
  • UR decisions on compounds are upheld in 99.2 percent of all cases.
  • Work comp administrative expenses are higher in California than any other state – by a lot. Part of the answer is the outright abuse of the IMR process by a handful of scummy providers in SoCal…and a couple up north too.

Gary Franklin MD gave a compelling, passionate, and pointed argument that opioid manufacturers are at fault for the disaster that’s killed more than 200,000 of us. Gary never hesitates, never waivers, and is the individual who has done more than anyone else to confront the opioid issue.

More to come next week.


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Opioids – bad news and good

Patients taking opioids over the long term don’t go back to work, yet many long-term opioid patients can be weaned off opioids within two years.

Those are the quick takeaways from two studies that came out last week.

First, a study from WCRI validates earlier research, finding:

  • patients with multiple opioid scripts are out of work three times longer than patients with no opioid scripts, and
  • patients who lived in places where providers prescribe a lot of long term opioids…are more likely to get opioids for longer periods than individuals who lived elsewhere.

This is the first study that looked at ALL lost-time claims with a diagnosis of low back pain in a very large area – 28 states that represent 80% of claims – over a five-year period. This is important because it shows  cause-and-effect independent of so-called “severity” measures, which often use cost, treatment, or prescriptions to indicate medical severity, instead of actual clinical indicators. By looking at ALL low back claims with lost time, claims, it is clear that the driver of disability is long-term prescribing of opioids.

The takeaway is this – chronic use of opioids extends disability, and you can figure out where you need to focus your efforts by looking at publicly-available prescribing data.

California is one state with way too much experience in dealing with opioids in work comp; the graph below shows both the overuse, and the progress made in the Golden State since it got serious about reducing opioid usage.

source – WCIRB

Which brings us to the good news: weaning works, as research from California’s Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau shows: 

47% of the injured workers demonstrating chronic opioid usage weaned off of opioids completely within the 24-month Study period. Injured workers who did not wean off completely over the Study period still reduced opioid dosage by an average of 52%.

The research included all patients with more than 50 morphine equivalents over at least 3 months within 24 months of the date of injury.

Yes, it is difficult, expensive, requires a lot of assistance from trained professionals, and does not always work. All that said, given the finding that patients taking opioids for longer periods are out of work a lot longer, it is well worth the time and effort to help these patients reduce or end their use of opioids.

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