Monday, April 20, 2015

Don't Be Fooled: Abuse Deterrence Isn't the Answer

One of the consistent themes of this blog is a critique of abuse deterrent formulations of opioids.  While absolutely necessary as one tool among many to stem the tide of prescription drug misuse and abuse, such technology runs the risk of creating a perception of safety among both patients and prescribers that is downright dangerous.

The best discussion I've seen on the topic came out last week on Forbes.  In an article and video by Matthew Herper, the pros and cons, risks and rewards of abuse deterrent opioids are covered quite thoroughly.  The video, in particular, is worth 5 minutes of your time.

And, of course, I would never miss a chance to restate my own position on the matter:

I am 100% supportive of abuse-deterrent formulations of prescription opioids.  These formulations are effective in combating abuse and diversion (at least in the short-term - it seems drug addicts often find a way to crack the code of each newly formulated medication.  But that doesn't mean we should stop trying, nor does it mean we should eliminate the economic incentive for the pharmaceutical companies to develop such technology).  

To me, though, this conversation is a distraction.  While eliminating abuse and diversion would be great for the work comp system, these aberrant behaviors are not driving the bulk of the problem.  The vast majority of cases in which PRIUM intervenes involve legitimate prescriptions being taken as prescribed.  Very little pill crushing.  Very little intravenous injections.  Very little drug dealing.  

The problem as we see it is lack of medical necessity.  In most cases, it doesn't matter if the patient's opioid is abuse-deterrent or not.  If it's medically unnecessary, if it's leading to loss of function, if it's leading to dependence and addiction... it needs to go away.  The doctor will be better educated.  The patient will get better.  The cost of care will go down.  Everyone wins.  

Abuse deterrent technology is great, but if we focus on technology over medical necessity, we will have missed the mark and the crisis will continue.  

@PRIUM1 on Twitter

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Fight Comes to My Own Back Yard

Fulton County, Georgia has filed a lawsuit against several of the major drug distribution companies (McKesson, Cardinal, etc.) seeking damages related to the prescription drug abuse epidemic.  I haven't read the full court filing, but it appears this action is similar to West Virginia's approach (i.e., to sue the distributors and not the manufacturers, as the City of Chicago and Orange/Santa Clara Counties in California chose to do).

This suit is interesting for two reasons:

1) It's politically cleaner than the West Virginia law suit.  In that state, the primary law suit left out (at least initially) McKesson and Cardinal, the two largest drug distributors.  Turns out the Attorney General in West Virginia used to be a lobbyist for McKesson and his wife is a lobbyist for Cardinal.  While the legal concept being used by Fulton County of focusing law suits on distributors is similar to West Virginia's, the potential conflicts of interest are absent.

2) I live in Fulton County, Georgia.  I'll have a front row seat for this battle.  My county is a politically, racially, and economically diverse county; but like the rest of America, we have more in common than we have differences.  Among the things residents of Fulton County have in common is that many of us have felt, witnessed, or experienced the impact of prescription drug misuse and abuse.

My community is a lot like yours, probably.  Except that we now have an aggressive and creative legal strategy we're pursuing that may offer a pathway for communities across the country to recoup at least some of the costs we've expended in public health, our judicial system, and our law enforcement agencies.

Or... this could fall flat on its face and prove a waste of taxpayer resources.  I'm not taking a position either way, but I'm fascinated to see how this plays out.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Medical Marijuana: Fear Not

Ben Roberts and David Price, who head up PRIUM's regulatory and compliance consulting team, have authored a great piece on medical marijuana rules and statutes across the country.  The article is data-driven, well-researched, and should have a calming effect on payer organizations concerned about the potential need to reimburse for medical marijuana.

Did you know that of the 24 states with medical marijuana laws, most have either explicit or implicit provisions allowing for commercial payers to avoid reimbursement for medical marijuana?

Did you know that most of these states have a list of allowable conditions that provide a second layer of potential protection for commercial payers?

Did you know that most of these states have medical treatment guidelines that address the use of medical marijuana?

Did you know that the New Mexico cases that have most of our industry concerned about this issue exhibit systemic failure on the part of the payers in those cases to take advantage of these various provisions and protections?

We're not suggesting that medical marijuana is a non-event that deserves no attention.  We're suggesting that smart payers with smart medical management strategies need not fear being overwhelmed with medical marijuana spend.

Check out the full article here.

On Twitter @PRIUM1

Monday, March 23, 2015

Data Suggests We Still Have a Long Way To Go

A quick scan of this morning's news shows we have a long way to go in the fight against prescription opioid misuse and abuse.

From a survey conducted by the National Safety Council we learned that:

  • Nine in 10 opioid painkiller users are not concerned about addiction as a side effect, though 60 percent of users have at least one addiction risk factor 
  • 69 percent of opioid painkiller users feel opioids are the most effective medications to treat pain, though research shows this is not true
  • Americans mistakenly believe gun violence, severe weather and commercial airline travel are more significant threats to their safety than opioid painkillers
  • Many Americans do not realize they have taken opioids

  • 42.9% of the 1,285 patients on long term opioid therapy had signed a treatment agreement
  • 62.8% of those patients had been subject to a urine drug test within the last year. 
  • The study's lead author, Laila Khalid, told workcompcentral, "It should be 100% adherence."  

So once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.  Another week in the battle against prescription drug abuse.  Lots of work to do.  


Monday, March 2, 2015

Inconsistent Standards of Care, Judicially Mandated

Very little good has ever come from judges attempting to interpret legislative intent in the face of disputed medical treatment.

Barbara Shepard injured her back, neck, and left shoulder in 2005 while employed with the Oklahoma Department of corrections.  The OK Work Comp Court ordered that the carrier pay for treatment, inclusive of office visits and (you guessed it) pain management medications.  "This provision," stated the order, "shall be reviewed by the Court upon application of either party for good cause shown."  

Turns out evolving contemporary medical evidence and the risks of opioid medications do not amount to "good cause."  

Despite Oklahoma's adoption of the Official Disability Guidelines as of March 1, 2012, the Court found that those guidelines do not retrospectively apply to Shepard's case.  Simply because of the date on which she was injured, Shepard is subject to a different (and, frankly, inferior) standard of care.   While physicians on both sides of the dispute agree that the guidelines indicate she should not receive the pain management medications she has been taking, the Court instead relied on a purely legal framework to make its decision.  Thus, not only has the Court failed to contemplate the growing body of medical knowledge from which the patient could benefit, but it has also created two standards of medical care for Oklahoma work comp patients that depends entirely on one's date of injury.   

Let's consider an admittedly controversial analogy: Instead of being injured in 2005, let's pretend for a moment that Shepard was hurt in 1917.  And instead of an injured back, she had a work-induced cough.  During this time, she might have been prescribed a popular cough suppressant manufactured and sold by Bayer pharmaceuticals.  The chemical compound was diacetylmorphine, but it was marketed under its trade name: heroin.      

Seven years later, in 1924, in the face of a public health crisis and mounting evidence of heroin's harmful properties, Congress passed the Heroin Act, which outlawed the sale, importation, and even the manufacture of heroin.  

According to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, however, Shepard should still get heroin for her cough... despite the evolving medical evidence and the statutory support for recognizing that medical evidence, Shepard should still get her heroin, simply because she developed her cough seven years before we knew that heroin was more likely to harm her than help her.

Opioids, thankfully, are not illegal.  There are many patients, particularly the terminally ill, that benefit greatly from these medications.  But it's also true that we didn't know in 2005 everything we now know about opioids in the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain.  For instance, in 2005, the National Safety Council had yet to publish this informative graphic:

We cannot create a sustainable system of medical care for injured workers that does not allow for the incorporation of the best available medical evidence.  

On Twitter @PRIUM1

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Research is Catching Up to our Experience

I see a theme among recent posts: pointing to new research that confirms things we already knew because we see them in claims every day.  This is good news.  The science is catching up to our practical experiences with opioids, addiction, and chronic pain.

The latest confirmation comes from the Cleveland Clinic.  In an article published in the Journal of Pain late last year, researchers assessed the likelihood of opioid abuse based on past history of non-opioid substance abuse.  For those of us close to complex chronic pain cases, we know that a history of, say, alcohol abuse, is correlated with opioid abuse.  But until now, we didn't have compelling data from peer reviewed literature to back our intuition.  Granted, cross-substance abuse is a well known research area... but this study focused specifically on opioids among patients with chronic, non-cancer pain.  

Among other important conclusions, here's what I thought was most important: In a pain rehab program, participants with a history of a nonopioid substance use disorder had 28 times the odds of having an addiction to prescribed medications.   

What does this mean for you?  
  1. Every injured worker, every claim, every doctor... must have an opioid risk assessment performed prior to any potentially addictive prescriptions are written.  
  2. Doctors must be educated on how to interpret the opioid risk assessment and use it to tailor treatment to the individual needs (and risks) of the injured worker.  

Failure to complete these two steps will invite tragedy.  

Follow us on Twitter @PRIUM1 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Opt Out: A Tale of Two Tweets

[A guest post from Ben Roberts, PRIUM's General Counsel]

When I checked my twitter feed one morning last week, two tweets caught my attention:

1. ARAWC: Tennessee Legislators Introduce Workers’ Comp Option Legislation 
2. Supreme Court Asked to Review Constitutionality of Opt-Out Process. Full story at: 

I find the juxtaposition interesting: Tennessee legislators are trying to create an opt-out process in their state; meanwhile, attorneys in Oklahoma are trying to undo their opt-out process by challenging its constitutionality.  

Oklahoma’s opt-out provision was created by the passage of SB 1062 in 2013 and, at the time, several constitutional challenges were made.  But now a group of attorneys is again taking the constitutional challenge directly to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, hoping to have the opt-out provision struck down. 

The Tennessee legislation, SB 721, requires employers who choose to opt-out of the system to set up their own plans meeting certain requirements.  This is similar to the opt-out provision in Oklahoma, and while we haven’t heard any constitutional objections from Tennessee, I am sure they will follow.

It appears as though OK and TN are trying to replicate the results of Texas -- the only other state that permits “opting-out”.  The Texas non-subscriber provision has been in place for nearly 100 years, and many companies have seen significant cost savings and better claim outcomes in that state.

The goals associated with providing employers with the option of opting out are well outlined by the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation (ARAWC):
• An Option can reduce the overall costs of treating employee injuries and support local job growth and economic development.
• An Option can deliver better medical outcomes and higher satisfaction for injured workers.
• Employers in Option states see significant savings and improved medical outcomes.

But, these changes aren’t made overnight.  

I often equate making changes to the workers’ compensation system to changing a tire on a moving vehicle.  The solution has to fit an ever-changing system.  It’s not something that can be done easily, and in order to be successful, it must be well thought out, well planned, and well executed.

Ben Roberts
Ben is PRIUM's General Counsel.  You can follow him on Twitter @WC_Compliance
As always, you can follow PRIUM @PRIUM1