How Employers Can Limit the Opioid Crisis

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 3.54.33 PMOpioid abuse continues to rise in the United States, affecting not only the individual – but also their family, friends, employers, and communities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 2  million Americans currently abuse prescription opioids, causing an estimated 44 people to die every day, tallying an unthinkable 16,000 opioid related deaths each year.  Furthermore, this number does not account for the individuals that move on from prescription drugs to more dangerous street drugs that so often times result in additional overdoses and deaths.

The problem is continually getting worse. In 2012, 259 million opioid prescriptions were sold, which is enough for every American 18+ years old to each have their own opioid prescription.

While this is a major concern for the entire American population at large, employers are seeing a direct impact in the workforce. Employers have lost an estimated $10 billion in absenteeism and presenteeism due to opioid abuse – and the number continues to rise.  Opioid abusers cost an employer nearly twice as much as an employee who does not abuse prescription opioid medications.

A recent study by Castlight showed that although opioid abusers only account for 4.5% of those with a prescription, these abusers cost the United States economy upwards of $56 million.  Additionally, the study also showed that low-income Americans with an opioid prescription are more than twice as likely to abuse than high-income earners.

Efforts to curb opioid abuse do not begin and end with Employers.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has been closely monitoring the situation in an effort to provide guidance and resources for Medicare Advantage Plan sponsors.  In partnership with the Pharmacy Quality Alliance (PQA), CMS is considering new quality measurement criteria for safer use of opioids across varying diseases states and in conjunction with other medications.  More to come on their guidance this fall.

Taking the right medication at the right time includes ensuring the safety of those individuals who are prescribed controlled substances, either in a work environment or through the appropriate quality measurement program.  PharmMD deploys comprehensive programs specifically designed to mitigate risk, improve population health, and reduce your overall healthcare costs.  Join us today, and together we can create healthier lives.

Cyndi Alexander, CPHQ
VP, Quality and Star Ratings Improvement