Latest Data on Opioid Use Hint Tide May Have Turned
The opioid abuse epidemic, which has affected construction along with other work environments in the U.S., may have crested, according to recently obtained data.
According to Quest Diagnostics, a leading clinical laboratory, overall positivity rates for drug use among employees tested is up from a 30-year low in 2012, but unchanged from 2016 to 2017. Testing positive for opiates is down markedly from 2016 to 2017, according to the lab. With a 17% decrease in testing positive for opiates among workers, it appears that measures to control the overuse and overprescription of opiates are working.
“We’re encouraged by this data,” says Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology for Quest Diagnostics. “We’ve had three consecutive years for decline [in use] of hydrocodone and six years decline for oxycodone,” he says. “We can’t prove there’s cause and effect, but overall it’s good news. And it helps provide a safer work environment.”
But the data wasn’t all good news— abuse of coke and speed is surging in some areas of the country.
“We’re concerned that in certain geographical areas we are seeing an increase for both cocaine and methamphetamine use. It’s a challenge for national employers,” says Dr. Kimberly Samano, scientific director for Quest Diagnostics.
The Centers for Disease Control recently noted the overall national opioid prescribing rate fell in 2017 to its lowest rate in a decade.
These findings are some of the latest reports from an ongoing war against the overuse of painkillers and corresponding problems of impairment-related accidents, long-term employee addiction, and other results of drug abuse in the workplace. Recently, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) vetoed state Senate Bill 936. Republican supporters said the measure would have helped fight the opioid problem in the state, but Wolf claimed the so-called “formulary proposal” would have saved money for businesses and insurers but would not have helped fight abuse of the painkillers.
“Senate Bill 936 is not a bill designed to fight the opioid crisis. Senate Bill 936 threatens health care for millions of workers who could be injured on the job,” Wolf said in a statement. “My administration has outlined a number of executive and legislative actions that can be taken immediately to address the rising misuse and overprescribing of opioids in the health care system, including Workers’ Compensation. Implementing those actions is my top priority.”
According to a 2015 risk and insurance report by pharmacy service IWP, “Opioids and the Injured Worker, Part Two,” every state but Pennsylvania has created a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP). The intent is to prevent doctor-shopping or filling the same prescription at multiple pharmacies. “When an injured worker fills a prescription at a pharmacy, the pharmacist can access the patients’ history within the PDMP, providing an additional level of safety aimed directly at preventing opioid abuse,” the report states.
Pennsylvania’s failure to enact such a workers’ compensation provision follows on the heels of a similar failure in Louisiana. One state that has succeeded in adopting such a provision is California, which passed a formulary in 2015 that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. New York also has been considering a formulary.
A 2017 report by myMatrixx, a pharmacy benefit manager, notes progress in efforts to control opioid pain prescriptions. “We expect this trend to continue,” the report states.