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Pain treatment becomes safer, more complex

workers compensation

Data on workers compensation drug spending is clear: Opioid prescriptions and costs for injured workers have plummeted over the past 10 years as employers, claims managers and others aimed to greatly reduce dangerous pain medications in comp. 

Opioid utilization among injured workers declined 57.5% from 2016 to 2022, according to data gathered by myMatrixx, a Jacksonville, Florida-based pharmacy benefits manager and subsidiary of Express Scripts Holding Co. 

The workers compensation sector is still grappling with how best to manage the pain of injured workers without the powerful drugs, and several alternatives have emerged. Experts say some options are costlier than opioids, more experimental and come with concerns. But the industry is becoming accustomed to a multifaceted approach, and companies are working within injured workers’ abilities. 

“When you are addressing pain, you have to approach it with, What are the goals that we’re looking for? What is our end goal? Is the end goal going back to work, or is the end goal just quality of life? When you have a clear goal in mind the path becomes a little bit easier, and you’re not focusing so much on pain, you’re focusing on recovery,” said Reema Hammoud, Southfield, Michigan-based assistant vice president, clinical pharmacy, for Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc.

The answer to pain management is typically “all of the above,” said Joe Paduda, Skaneateles, New York-based president of comp consultant CompPharma LLC. “Most patients who have some sort of chronic or post-acute pain are doing multiple things,” he said.