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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Right Target in Chronic Pain Cases: The Brain

Need convincing that the key to chronic pain management lies in behavioral health?  NPR has a great piece today on the human brain's ability to deal with pain signals and what this might mean for chronic pain management.

"The brain also determines the emotion we attach to each painful experience, Linden says. That's possible, he explains, because the brain uses two different systems to process pain information coming from our nerve endings.
One system determines the pain's location, intensity and characteristics: stabbing, aching, burning, etc.
"And then," Linden says, "there is a completely separate system for the emotional aspect of pain — the part that makes us go, 'Ow! This is terrible.' "
Linden says positive emotions — like feeling calm and safe and connected to others — can minimize pain. But negative emotions tend to have the opposite effect." 

The article also references a study published in 2011 that found 8 weeks of "mindfulness" practice appeared to enhance a subject's ability to manage pain.

These articles and studies add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that when workers' compensation payers ignore the link between behavioral health and chronic pain, they do so at their own peril.  We must begin to routinely incorporate these modalities into chronic pain care, at every stage of the claim.  We have to stop being scared of psych diagnoses and begin addressing the route causes of chronic pain.

If you're focused on relief of non-specific low back pain and ignoring what's going on in the injured worker's brain (including the injured worker's emotional state), you're shooting at the wrong target.

On Twitter @PRIUM1

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Naloxone, Fences, and Ambulances

[The following is a guest post from PRIUM's General Counsel, Ben Roberts]

Every day we are hearing more news and reporting on the “anti-overdose” drug Naloxone. Just looking at my Google feed this morning I see articles from Maine, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Virginia discussing legislation and it widespread use.

Last year, New Jersey passed the Overdose Prevention Act which permits broader access to naloxone and provided criminal and civil protections for those who administer it.

The Governor of West Virginia is about to sign SB 335  which allows medical responders and law enforcement to carry naloxone as well as allows physicians to prescribe the drug to those at risk of an overdoes as wells as their family and friends.

Many more state have passed and proposed similar legislation.

I think that these efforts should be applauded.  Given the state of the prescription drug epidemic, overdose prevention is something that should be on every legislative agenda this year.  But when I see these reactive approaches to public health issues I can’t help but be reminded of a poem from my childhood. 

In Joseph Malines “The Fence or the Ambulance” a great debate arises in a community about their own “public health” issue:

Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed
though to walk near its crest was so pleasant
But over its terrible edge there had slipped a duke and many a peasant
So the people said something would have to be done
But their projects did not at all tally
Some said, "Put a fence around the edge of the cliff"
Some, "An ambulance down in the valley.”

The poem continues with the community making the choice of the ambulance over the fence.

'For the cliff is all right if you are careful,' they said,
"And if folks even slip or are dropping
it isn't the slipping that hurts them so much
as the shock down below when they're stopping."

Then an old man remarked: "It's a marvel to me
that people give far more attention
to repairing results than to stopping the cause
when they'd much better aim at prevention

if the cliff we will fence, we might also dispense
with the ambulance down in the valley.

Overdose prevention, like abuse deterrent formulations of opioids is a positive step, but legislators need to be focusing on proactive steps to help avoid this problem and stem this epidemic.

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Non-medical Use and Addiction: Distinctions in the Opioid Crisis

A new study coming out soon in the Annual Review of Public Health attempts to reframe our discussion regarding the opioid crisis.  Often, we focus attention on nonmedical use of opioids.  Those of us in the insurance world know that while nonmedical use is a serious societal issue, it's only one part of the opioid problem.

From the study (among the authors of which is Andrew Kolodny, one of the most well known and recognized voices of reason in the public dialogue around the opioid crisis):
"Policy makers and the media often characterize the opioid crisis as a problem of nonmedical opioid pain reliever abuse by adolescents and young adults.  However, several lines of evidence suggest that addiction occurring in both medical and nonmedical users, rather than abuse per se, is the key driver of opioid-related morbidity and mortality in medical and nonmedical opioid pain reliever users."  

This distinction is critical because it focuses our attention, our resources, and our solutions in a different direction (or, at least, in more directions) than if we were to simply assume that opioid overdose deaths are driven by diversion, misuse, and abuse among young people.

The reality is that there are likely as many as 5 million people in this country addicted to prescription opioids and as many as half of them are receiving legitimate prescriptions from legitimate doctors for legitimate pain.  Not all chronic pain patients on long term opioid therapy will exhibit drug seeking or otherwise aberrant behavior.

Another important insight from the paper is the analogy that Dr. Kolodny and his colleagues draw between the methods of combating other public health crises and the approach we should consider taking toward the opioid crisis:
"... our purposes is to demonstrate that prevention strategies employed in epidemiologic responses to communicable and noncommunicable disease epidemics apply equally well when the disease in question is opioid addiction.  Interventions should focus on preventing new cases of opioid addiction (primary prevention), identifying early cases of opioid addiction (secondary prevention), and ensuring access to effective addiction treatment (tertiary prevention)."  

We have a long way to go in all three categories, but papers like this push our collective thinking in the right direction.  Worth a read.

On Twitter @PRIUM1

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Zohydro Is Now Abuse-Deterrent... And It Doesn't Matter

Zogenix, the makers of Zohydro - the first "hydrocodone only" opioid analgesic - announced last week that the FDA has approved a new formulation of Zohydro that now includes abuse-deterrent technology.  For frequent readers of the blog, here's a warning: I'm about to repeat myself.  For what must be the fourth or fifth time in the past year.  That said, I will continue to repost these thoughts on abuse deterrent opioids every single time one is approved.

So... once again, here's your friendly public service announcement:

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.  

On Twitter @PRIUM1

Monday, February 2, 2015

The New Mexico Marijuana Case is Even Weirder Than You Think

Of all the states, who would have guessed that New Mexico would be the hotbed of medical marijuana court decisions?  Between the Vialpando v. Ben’s Auto. Servs., in May and the Maez v. Riley Industrial case, handed down earlier this month, New Mexico’s Court of Appeals appears to be one of the most pro-marijuana courts in the nation.

Back in May, when I first wrote about this issue, I wondered why the reasonableness and the necessity of the marijuana treatment was not questioned and our corporate counsel told me that surely there be additional case law to clarify this issue. 

Sure enough, the Court in Maez decided to take on the issue of the reasonableness and necessity of the marijuana treatment.  Mr. Maez suffered from an industrial accident and was being treated by Dr. Reeve.  Dr. Reeve had prescribed a variety of medications including several opioids and, as required for patients on long term opioid therapy, performed regular urine drug tests.  During one of those tests, Mr. Maez tested positive for marijuana.  Typically, recreational marijuana use, or the use of any illicit substance raises red flags with the prescriber.  But not Dr. Reeve! 

Dr. Reeve informed Mr. Maez that if he was going to use marijuana, he needed to have a medical marijuana license.  Luckily for Mr. Maez, Dr. Reeve was happy to provide him with one.  According to Dr. Reeve, “patients are going to use cannabis either one way or the other . . . if a patient requests that I sign [a license], I will sign it . . . but I’m not recommending . . . or in any way advocating for the use of medical cannabis.”  Dr. Reeve also considers the use of medical marijuana to be the patient’s decision “as it’s private and voluntary and it’s not overseen by a physician.”

So the guy ended up on a medical marijuana regimen due to a failed drug test.  That should be sufficient for the Court to find in favor of the payer, right? 

Nope.  And it gets worse. 

The Court went on to rationalize and interpret Dr. Reeve’s actions as reasonable and necessary stating that “[Dr. Reeve] adopted a treatment plan based on medical marijuana.  He would not have done so if it were an unreasonable treatment.”  Imagine if that logic was applied to all work comp medical treatment.  The doc says it’s reasonable… so it is.  State statutes and regulations have been evolving for over a decade to specifically counter this argument.   But not in New Mexico.    

And it gets even worse.

To take this determination one step further, since the physician said that it is Mr. Maez's decision to use medical marijuana, the Court, by default, has determined that the self-directed use of marijuana by this injured worker is reasonable and necessary because the physician signed off on it.  This is patient-directed care at its absolute worst. 

So, to recap what led to this decision: Illicit drug use, perpetrated by the injured worker, condoned by the doctor, and supported by a court of law.

I wish I could tell you that marijuana should be the least of your concerns, but if this is the specious logic to which we’re beholden… we’ll need better guidelines, better tools, and better lawyers.

On Twitter @PRIUM1