February 5, 2020

An Opioid Snapshot for 2020

As awareness surrounding the opioid epidemic has grown over the last several years, different organizations, regulatory associations, prescribers, and the general public have taken many collective steps to impact opioid utilization, and this has led to significant changes.

In fact, Healthesystems recently partnered with Risk & Insurance® to conduct a workers’ comp industry insight survey, and among the various insights uncovered, it was found that while opioids are still prevalent and problematic, industry concern surrounding the epidemic has slightly decreased.

Such changes are based on recent data findings from key institutions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported that opioid prescribing peaked from 2010-2012 and has been declining ever since, with a 19% reduction in annual prescribing from 2006-2017.

Furthermore, the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) examined 575,000 claims across 27 states, which represented 37-72% of workers’ comp claims in each state, and found that opioid prescribing dropped significantly in comp claims. In Illinois the decrease came to 8%, while in California it came to 25%. Approximately 17 states saw MME decrease by 30% or more, and three states saw 50% decreases.

Not only have prescribers shifted their practices, but so have regulatory authorities. The Department of Health and Human Services published an opioid tapering and discontinuation guideline last year, and various lawsuits mounted against opioid manufacturers have resulted in multi-million dollar settlements and rulings, the latest just this January resulting in $8.75 million, pushing the state of Oklahoma to launch three more suits against distributors.

In fact, an FDA panel voted 27-0 against the approval of a new opioid due to the potential for abuse, causing the manufacturer to withdraw the drug for consideration and cease development.

The tide appears to finally be changing. And while there has been much progress, there are still concerns for which we must remain vigilant.

The CDC recently issued a new data brief on drug overdose deaths, and while overdose deaths from natural and semisynthetic opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone slightly decreased from 2017-2018, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl increased 10%. Furthermore, the average number of days per opioid prescription continues to rise, with the CDC estimating an average of 18 days per prescription in 2017.

But as the strategies that have yielded such beneficial progress continue to evolve, it is certainly possible that even the rise of opioid overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids may soon receive the attention and strategies they deserve.

As a nation, and as an industry, we’ve come a long way in addressing the opioid epidemic, and 2020 could very well be a landmark year for changing the narrative in workers’ comp.

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