Recent research by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control has indicated that prescription opioid abuse, dependence, and overdoses cost the US economy nearly $80 billion in 2013. Opioid misuse can cost employers nearly $20,000 in average annual medical expenses, especially since one in three prescriptions provided under employer health care plans is being abused, according to research from the health-care firm Castlight Health. Castlight also found that painkiller abuse is four times more likely among baby boomers, and that the epidemic is particularly bad in the rural south. Indiana is another hotspot for the epidemic, where 80 percent of employers report being affected by the problem.
One Indiana company, the engine manufacturer Cummins Inc., has tried to tackle the issue head-on since discovering evidence of opioid misuse among its workforce in 2013. As the Wall Street Journal‘s Rachel Emma Silverman reports, they got both aggressive and proactive in their approach: The company, which employs 55,000 people, added opioids to the panel of drugs it tests employees for, but has sought to be flexible in its response to positive tests, since painkillers are most often legally prescribed and aren’t abused by a majority of workers. If an employee tests positive for opioids, they are directed to treatment if needed, as well as moved out of any safety-sensitive jobs in the company. And the company’s efforts don’t end there, as Silverman explains:
Cummins now teaches supervisors how to spot painkiller problems among employees and trains plant managers to stabilize and triage workers having an overdose, Dr. Shurney says. This summer, the company opened a new health center at its corporate headquarters, with services like massage, acupuncture, physical therapy and a full-time pharmacist, guiding workers to alternative pain treatments.
The manufacturer isn’t the only one addressing the issue, either:
In 2017, about 30% of employers will implement restrictions on opioid prescriptions and 21% say they will add programs to manage prescription opioid use, such as requiring prescriptions to be filled at one pharmacy or adding case-management programs to keep watch over employees’ use of painkillers, according to a survey of 133 large companies by the nonprofit National Business Group on Health.
Cummins has also enlisted its pharmacy benefits manager to track employees’ opioid prescriptions. Without providing individual information about employees to Cummins, that manager watches for signs of abuse and alerts the employee’s doctor and pharmacist if needed. The efforts seem to be paying off, as opioids prescribed under Cummins’ health plan decreased by nearly 4 percent from 2013 to 2015.