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Tampa, Florida-based CompPharma is a consortium of pharmacy benefit managers. It’s 9th annual survey report, titled “Prescription Drug Management in Workers’ Compensation” states that claims “payers have gotten the message: narcotics are highly problematic for workers’ comp claimants, employers and insurers.” The new survey confirms that addiction to opioid pain medications and the dispensing of drugs by doctors remain top concerns for workers’ compensation companies. The report relies on survey responses from insurers, third-party administrators, and employers with prescription expenses totaling nearly $475 million.

Concern over the long-term implications of prescribing narcotic pain medications to injured workers has grown during the past two years with respondents to this year’s survey conducted by CompPharma L.L.C. saying the issue remains “very significant.”

Despite relatively flat drug costs, respondents continue to be significantly concerned about the issue. In response to the question “How big a problem are drug costs?” on a 1 through 5 scale with 3 being “drug costs are equally as important as other medical cost issues,” drug costs were rated a 4.1, or “more important than other medical cost issues.” This was three-tenths of a point higher than last year’s results (3.8). Moreover, respondents are concerned (4.2) that drug costs will be more of a problem in the next 12-24 months than they are today.

And consistent with results from last year, respondents judged opioids to be a very significant problem, giving it an average of 4.8, identical to responses in the 2011 survey. This is the highest score for any survey question in the history of the survey, and a clear indicator of the level of the industry’s anxiety over a problem it has yet to fully understand, much less address.

The concern over physician dispensing has grown over the last few years, driven by payers’ own experience and the research from NCCI and WCRI quantifying the dramatic increase in the percentage of drug dollars going to pay for physician-dispensed medications.

In 2010, many responses noted newly implemented programs or steps designed to address opioid use. In 2011, implementing and upgrading those programs was the most common change to respondents’ pharmacy management programs.

Half of all respondents utilized a “urine drug-testing program to monitor claimant compliance.” Among those who did not answer in the affirmative were payers that operated in states where they could not require UDT, although they did encourage or recommend testing whenever possible. Others did not have “formal” programs but did reimburse for UDT and were in the process of setting up a program, or were discussing a program with their PBM. There is a clear indication that this tool is growing in popularity.

Pharmacy management in workers’ comp has evolved dramatically over the nine years that surveys have been taken. From a focus on the price of the pill and the size of the retail pharmacy network in 2003 to today’s concern about opioids, physician dispensing and clinical management, there has been a remarkable increase in sophistication and understanding. With that said, it is evident that despite all the attention paid to and resources focused on this issue, payers’ level of concern about pharmacy management continues to remain quite high.