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Workers Comp: FDA Looking Into Tighter Controls for Pain Killers

Posted on: November 18, 2013 by Caitlin Morgan

Workers Comp FDA Looking Into Tighter Controls for Pain Killers

Workers Comp: FDA Looking Into Tighter Controls for Pain Killers

As a provider of Workers Comp solutions, in our blog we at Caitlin-Morgan address the many issues and challenges faced in this arena. Opioid usage, for example, is a contributing factor not only to rising medical costs, which affect premiums, but also in lengthening the recovery period and timeframe that it takes injured workers to get back on the job.

Narcotics account for the highest spend among therapy classes in Worker’s Compensation, with OxyContin (oxycodone extended release) having the highest average per-user-per-year cost and accounting for 9.7% of total drug spend in 2012. Moreover, prescription drugs account for about three-quarters of all drug overdose deaths in the United States, with the number of deaths from narcotic painkillers, or opioids, quadrupling since 1999, according to federal data.

Now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended that tighter controls, such as those used in prescribing Oxycontin, also be implemented for other drugs containing a combination of hydrocodone and over-the-counter painkiller like acetaminophen or aspirin (such as Vicodin or Lortab or equivalent generics). Doctors use the medications to treat pain from injuries, arthritis, dental extractions and other problems.

The change under the FDA would reduce the number of refills patients could get before going back to see their doctor. Patients would also be required to take a prescription to a pharmacy, rather than have a doctor call it in. The new regulations would reduce by half, to 90 days, the supply of the drug a patient could obtain without a new prescription. Right now, a patient can refill a prescription for such drugs five times over a six-month period before needing a new prescription.

The FDA recommendation is likely to have a significant impact on the availability of the drugs, as well as on how pharmacies operate and even the types of medical professionals who can prescribe the medications. In 2011, about 131 million prescriptions for hydrocodone-containing medications were written for about 47 million patients, according to government estimates. That amounts to about five billion pills.

There are many that oppose these proposed new recommendations, including the AMA and pharmacy organizations, saying it would make it more difficult for patients with legitimate chronic pain to get relief. Others feel it would benefit patients: Dr. Janet Woodcock of the FDA said that requiring patients with long-lasting pain to see a doctor after three months, rather than six, for a new prescription could benefit them. “If you are needing chronic therapy of this magnitude,” she said, “you should be seeing your prescriber.”

How this all pans out remains to be seen, and we will keep you posted. Additionally, we will also be keeping an eye out on whether tighter controls on additional drugs will impact treatment for worker injuries and ultimately on employee recovery period and the cost of Workers Comp.

Partner with Caitlin-Morgan to address your client’s Workers Compensation needs. Whether your client is a minimum premium account or a tougher to place risk, Caitlin-Morgan is here to help you. Just give us a call at 877.226.1027.

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Posted in: Workers Compensation