In this era of data mining and predictive analytics, it's really not that difficult to project which comp claims are headed for "catastrophic" levels. Just follow the meds. A new study entitled "The Effects of Opioid Use on Workers Compensation Claims Cost in Michigan" establishes a direct link between long-acting medications and the eventual magnitude of the claim. Where short-acting opioids are involved, the claim is 1.76 times more likely to break the $100K barrier; with long-acting medications, the likelihood increases to a whopping 3.94. The researchers, including Jeffrey Austin White and Jack Tower of Accident Fund Holdings in Lansing MI, demonstrate what has been long known anecdotally: the use of opioids is an "independent risk factor for development of catastrophic claims."
The study examined over 12,000 claims that opened and closed between January 2006 and February 2010. (Had they included claims that were still open, the numbers may have been even more dramatic.) In an effort to isolate just how much opioids drove up the costs, the study accounted for other risk factors including sex, age, attorney involvement, the number of medical treatments and claim duration.
Pain and Dr. Sajedi
There is a relatively simple logic at work: injuries cause pain and opioids alleviate extreme pain. The question, naturally, is which injuries require extreme pain relief and which could be managed with lesser medications. Far too many doctors are too quick to prescribe narcotics, even as they fail to implement the most elementary safeguards to ensure that the drugs are used properly and for as short a duration as possible. (A comparable problem exists with the overuse of antibiotics; doctor training clearly needs more emphasis on pharmacology.)
Which brings us to Dr. Ebrahim Sajedi, 46, an internal medicine specialist in California who gets good reviews from his patients. Trained at the Rochester School of Medicine, Sajedi was busted on 12 felony counts of prescribing medications without a legitimate purpose. He provided scripts for Vicodin, Adderall, Klonopin and similar drugs to four undercover police officers without examining them and for no medical purpose. Why buy drugs on the street when you can get the good stuff from a certified specialist?
The prevalence of strong drugs in the comp system should come as no surprise. We live in a culture where we are supposed to live pain free, virtually forever, stimulated and distracted in every waking moment. We can hardly fathom the pain that mankind endured in every generation up until recent times. There is a complex, perhaps ultimately incomprehensible alchemy that takes place when pain relievers are introduced into the body. But this relief comes at great cost and even greater risk.
In workers comp, the cost is borne by the employer. The quick pain fix of opioids inevitably finds its way to the employer's bottom line in the form of prolonged absence from work, higher costs, higher experience mods and bigger insurance premiums. We have long suspected that injured workers on opioids stay out of work far longer than is medically necessary and often find themselves in the downward spiral toward a permanent disability lifestyle. With this Michigan study, we have further documentation that the promiscuous use of drugs undermines the recovery of injured workers and the financial stability of their employers.