WCRI Conference Offers Solutions for the Workers’ Compensation Opioid Epidemic

Pain is not funny, but this picture is!  Source: Microsoft Clip Art

Pain is not funny, but this picture is! (Microsoft Clip Art)

More Americans suffer from chronic pain than diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and strokes combined.

This is according to Harry L. Leider, the chief medical officer and senior vice president of Ameritox.

Leider was among other speakers at the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) conference who offered ways to address the growing opioid epidemic. (This blog covers my final coverage on the conference. To see more, please click here.)

The facts they shared in February are startling:

  • In the WCRI study states, most injured workers with pain were prescribed opioids. The amount of opioids per claim was highest in Pennsylvania, Louisiana and New York. Massachusetts is a good example of a state that is successfully reducing opioid use.
  • The risk factors for opioid abuse are: doctor shopping, being on high doses, low income, living in rural areas, Medicaid participation and a history of substance abuse, said Karin Mack, a senior behavioral at the Centers for Disease Control.
  • More Americans die from drug abuse than car crashes, she added.

­­­­_______________

The opioid epidemic, however, is a symptom to a much deeper problem.
That is, the problem of pain.
_______________

The most inspiring speaker was not a researcher, economist or workers’ compensation expert. Her name is Karen Kelly. She is president of Project Unite, which works in the real-world trenches of opioid abuse in eastern Kentucky.

Her story paints a tragic picture of the opioid epidemic. In eastern Kentucky, she said the following:

  • The average age of first time drug use is 11 years old.
  • In some counties, 50 percent of homes with children lack parents.
  • Drug abusers pressure doctors. One doctor was killed for refusing to write a script.

The Solutions

Kelly described the multi-pronged community efforts through her organization to discourage drug use and eliminate drugs at the source. As an example, she said pill mills in Florida were the source of 10,000 pills monthly in Kentucky. When Florida closed them, they moved to the Bluegrass State and were finally legislated of out there!

More solutions from other speakers include:

  • To discourage opioid abuse, pharmacies should ask to see identification to pickup opiods, said Peter Kreiner, Ph.D, a research scientist at Brandeis University. Thirty-eight percent of schedule D drugs not picked up by the patient, he said. (Virginia is one state already doing this.)
  • Opioid treatment should be initiated after other therapies fail, said Dr. Dean Hashimoto, chief occupational and environmental medicine for Partners HealthCare System. To him, treatment should be treated as a psychosocial problem. “The heart of the problem,” he said,” is physician discretion.”
  • For drug addiction to be addressed, an individual must be willing to change. Injured workers more willing to change than the rest of the population, said Jim Hudek, president & CEO, Paradigm Outcomes.

As I covered in my last blog, enforcing laws already on the books requiring doctors to monitor patients and addressing the physician dispensing issue would also go a long way to address the epidemic. The opioid epidemic, however, is a symptom to a much deeper problem.

That is, the problem of pain. Until we can find solutions to address the problem of pain psychologically and physically – and make those solutions readily available — suffering people will naturally want the relief that opioids offer.

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