US Labor Department reports reduction in opioid use amongst federal employees

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The U.S. Department of Labor is reporting fewer federal employees are taking opioids after its Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) took steps to track and reduce opioid prescriptions.

In a blog post on Oct. 5, the DOL reported that since January 2017, the department had put in place several controls to track and limit the use of prescription opioids.

“Before January 2017, DOL had taken minimal action to combat the opioid crisis. If a pharmacy bill for an opioid prescription was submitted, it was almost always paid. A few limited controls were in place, but none considered whether an opioid prescription was medically necessary and neither duration nor the dose levels were tracked,” the DOL wrote in its blog post. “Since January 2017, with the national focus brought to the forefront by the Presidential initiative, we’ve implemented systematic changes that have reduced the number of injured federal employees receiving opioid prescriptions. Our data-driven approach emphasizes effective controls, tailored treatment, meaningful communication, and diligent fraud detection.”

The department reported that the OWCP started examining pharmacy bills for opioid prescriptions and began tracking the bills for both prescription’s duration and dose levels. Additionally, the department limited new opioid prescriptions to seven days to start. Patients could get up to three additional seven-day refills but would require authorizations for opioid prescriptions past the initial 28-day period.

The department also established a medical benefits examiners team to work with physicians and injured workers in developing tailored treatment plans. The department also worked to ensure that injured workers who had been prescribed opioids got the information they needed about the risks of prescription opioids, alternative non-opioid treatment, and how to get treatment for opioid addiction. Physicians who prescribe dangerously high opioid doses were informed that their prescribing practices were being monitored, and any suspected fraud was reported.

As a result, the department said, since January 2017, overall opioid use has dropped by 49 percent. New opioid prescriptions have dropped by 30 percent, and new opioid prescriptions lasting more than 30 days decreased by 62 percent. Even dosing levels dropped, the DOL reported with prescriptions with morphine equivalent dosages of 500 or more dropping by 81 percent, and prescriptions with a morphine equivalent dosage of 90 or more dropping by 56 percent.

“All of these statistics point toward one thing: measurable progress in reducing the likelihood of opioid addiction or misuse,” the DOL wrote. “There’s still more work to be done, but we’re proud of the progress we’ve made and look forward to continuing to support injured federal workers and reducing the risk of opioid misuse.”

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