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The opioid crisis has hurt families and communities in many nations, especially in the U.S. The crisis takes a toll on businesses, too. The abuse of these strong pain medications can drive up workers compensation costs and extend the temporary disability of injured workers. But businesses can support the fight against the scourge of opioid abuse by taking steps to discourage unnecessary use while supporting compassionate treatment of employees.

Abuse of Opioids: 4 Factors that Can Harm Your Businesses

Opioid medications can relieve pain for injured workers and put them on the path to recovery, but they also pose serious risks for employees and businesses alike. To begin addressing this issue at your business, it’s important to understand the ways that opioid misuse and addiction can hurt your company and workers. The costs to businesses are driven by four main factors:

  1. Extended disability – Injured workers who are prescribed opioids stay on temporary disability more than three times longer than workers with similar injuries who are not prescribed opioids.1 Long-term absences can hurt workplace productivity and lower morale among employees who must work to fill the gap left by an absent employee.
  2. Higher claims costs – Pain management using opioids is costly—and it can lead to dependence and addiction, which adds further costs.
  3. Longer duration of open medical claims – Medical claims for injured workers who are prescribed opioids can remain open for years—or even for a worker’s lifetime. Long-term or indefinite claims can significantly increase claims costs.
  4. Higher Premiums – Businesses may see their workers compensation premiums increase to offset the cost of higher claims arising from the opioid use and abuse of injured workers.

A Balanced Approach to Treating Workplace Injuries

Businesses can help respond to the opioid epidemic, control costs, and meet the needs of employees by working with their workers compensation insurer to take a balanced, comprehensive approach to responding to workplace injuries, including:

  • Robust medical management – Specialized nurse case managers and medication specialists can form a treatment team that coordinates care and communicates with patients, physicians, and claims examiners to provide the best treatment while also minimizing the use of opioids.
  • State-mandated formularies – A formulary is a list of approved medications established by government or private parties. While formularies include opioids for severe pain, they also provide guidelines to promote the use of non-opioid pain medications.
  • Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) – PBMs help control costs and manage the dispensing and payment of medications. An engaged PBM will support the safe, effective treatment of injured workers and help identify and prevent the overuse of opioids.
  • Data analytics – The use of data analytics in healthcare is advancing rapidly and data analysis that combines Electronic Health Records and predictive models can help identify patients at risk for opioid overuse.
  • Utilization review – This process examines diagnoses and evaluates prescribed treatments. It can provide an extra layer of scrutiny.

Turning the Corner on the Opioid Crisis

Companies and insurers worldwide can play a critical role in helping fight the opioid crisis. Reducing opioid prescriptions is both good medicine and good business. Progress is being made on some fronts, with opioid overdose deaths declining in some nations, but there is more work to be done. Opioid overutilization and abuse have had a major impact on workers compensation claims, making it critical for businesses to be part of the response.

For more information, see Chubb Healthbeat: A pulse on the current opioid crisis

1 Source: Workers’ Compensation Research Institute, March 2018

This document is advisory in nature and is offered as a resource to be used together with your professional insurance advisors in maintaining a loss prevention program. It is an overview only, and is not intended as a substitute for consultation with your insurance broker, or for legal, engineering or other professional advice.

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