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According to the National Center for Health Statistics, opioids caused approximately two-thirds of the drug overdose deaths in 2016, killing more people that year than car accidents, guns or breast cancer.
For employers, the financial toll of chronic pain and opioid addiction continues to increase, with medical costs associated with pain care and economic costs related to disability days, lost wages and productivity costing an estimated $560 to $635 billion each year (according to the Institute of Medicine Report).
The biggest opportunity our research identified for reducing prescription opioid abuse is to address the root cause of the problem: chronic pain. Our big-data analytics allowed us to identify a rise in workplace injuries involving chronic pain more than five years ago. In response, we developed our proprietary Early Severity Predictor, which uses predictive analytics capabilities to get ahead of the problem early and identify injured employees at risk of developing chronic pain.
We then work closely with these high-risk employees and their physician to develop an aggressive, sports medicine-like treatment regimen. This often includes using physical therapy and other options to keep acute pain from becoming chronic. Not only can this approach improve the recovery, it can also help avoid the need for surgery, which is almost always followed by an opioid prescription.
Since we launched our Early Severity Predictor in 2015, we have reduced opioid use by more than 30% among the nearly 500,000 injured workers we have helped recover. Since 2016, surgeries – which are often followed by an opioid prescription for pain – have also fallen by 25%, due to the increased use of physical therapy and other alternative treatments. Injured employees who received this alternative treatment for their injury recovered and returned to work 10% faster than those who did not. As a result, we have helped employers reduce medical expenses by as much as 50%.
Early intervention is critical in addressing drug dependency and chronic pain. By creating a care path that is specific to the unique circumstances and needs of each injured employee, we have been able to achieve better recoveries and reduce costs.
Employers play a key role here. NSC surveyed more than 500 HR decision makers and executives last year and found that more than 70% of employers have been impacted by prescription drugs but 81% lack a comprehensive drug-free workplace policy. However, the NSC survey also found that 70% would like to help employees return to work following appropriate treatment. By starting a dialogue about this safety hazard and focusing on addressing the root cause, we can work towards making real progress.