Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pharmaceutical Conundrum

Drugs and workers' compensation seem to go together.

And it seems, generally not for the purpose of ensuring the injured worker gets better.

2 stories in WorkCompCentral this morning highlight the creep of prescriptions into work comp and demonstrate how these become issues later down the road.

First, the Federal Drug Administration has been studying whether to reclassify marijuana out of the current Schedule 1 classification. The FDA has been looking at this since 2013.

Doing so would essentially be an admission by that administration that there are some legitimate medical and therapeutical value to pot.

Though New Mexico courts have ruled, twice now, that workers' compensation insurance companies must pay for medicinal marijuana as part of their medical liability, other states have not gone that far, and most payers are not authorizing payment for pot because it is still a Schedule 1 drug.

And the state trend to legalize marijuana, both for medicinal and recreational use, continues, exacerbating the friction between the federal law, state law, and medical research (which, for the most part sanctifies marijuana for very limited medical purposes, and generally no conditions that are typically the provence of workers' compensation cases).

States are also encouraged by the probability of increased tax revenue from pot, looking at pioneer Colorado's tax income as evidence. That state saw $45 million in pot tax revenue as of the third quarter in 2014 according to the Washington Post - revenue that otherwise would not be realized at all when the drug was solely under ground.

Some observers say that the introduction of marijuana into the work comp system as a recognized treatment option may affect the employment of injured workers because employers are going to be reticent to have pot users return to work to, for instance, operate machinery, until they can demonstrate lack of THC in their system.
Bowzer confronts the Conundrum

Of course, the likelihood is that the folks that are using pot now are probably working with it in their systems now - employers just don't know it for sure even though they may suspect it.

Combine the marijuana issue with physician dispensing compound medications, and we have a new, powerful trend to deal with.

The practice of medicine is, after stripping away the Hippocratic Oath, after all a business, which means there's a profit motive.

There are a few in the medical field for whom "In God We Trust" is more compelling than "Do No Harm." But these few disgrace the rest of the profession, and provoke undue burden on doctors who take The Oath seriously.

The Workers Compensation Research Institute issued a report the past week that physician dispensers had found a way around price controls adopted by both Illinois and California: The doctors dispense drugs in unusual dosages, such as 7.5 mg, which allows repackagers to adopt a unique National Drug Code number instead of using the NDC assigned by the drugs' original manufacturers.

WCRI found that physicians were dispensing a 7.5 mg strength formulation of the muscle relaxant cyclobenzaprine, a 150 mg extended release version of the painkiller tramadol, and a generic formulation of Vicodin containing 2.5 mg of hydrocodone and 325 mg of acetaminophen. Because there had been no corresponding increase in those novel dosages dispensed by pharmacies, WCRI concluded, "it is likely that financial incentives drove some physicians to choose the strength for their patients."

What WorkCompCentral reporters found was that the FDA database shows just 19 suppliers of the drug formulations highlighted in the WCRI report. Seven of them provided all three of the formulations, three that supply hydrocodone and cyclobenzaprine, five that only provide cyclobenzaprine and one that only provides hydrocodone.

Several of the companies had been fined or warned by the federal government for engaging in unsafe practices, while another paid $12 million to resolve allegations that it paid kickbacks to doctors to prescribe its products.

One company highlighted in the story markets itself an industry leader in "prepackaged pharmaceuticals." It offers physicians drug-dispensing software that will fill clinics with "healthy patients and healthy profits."

So while states are going to tackle with physician dispensed compound drugs, and just may eliminate all physician dispensing (which in my opinion is the only way to deal with removing the inherent conflict of interest, except in emergency or special circumstances), the new "mole" will arise: legitimization of marijuana and a whole new revenue stream.


  1. I live in a society that will deprive a person of pain meds over fear of OD's, or a fence of addiction discrimination,
    yet the same sys cares less if it makes Pts mentally Ill & SI or homicidal, over injustice in our care. WOW
    How can you have it both ways?

  2. Thanks what a great article. One more thought that came to mind. Was if eployers are so worried taht folks will come back to work on THC, why are they not worried about sending us back high on opiates? I was sent back to work at the UWMC while on a pain contract. So employers really need some better reasoning that that for half of America is working high on opiates these days to get them through the slave jobs. That many with bad conditions are being forced back into. As you all know all ready. Thanks again. And say. I think I know the Answer to this all ready, but What DO YOU ALL think about nationalizing workers comp? Is it doable? Or even a good idea? Peace and I have my hearing for MED MJ here in WA towards the end of this month. So Im keeping my fingers crossed, I think I put fourth a compssionate plea for my meds to be covered, just like my brothers and sister who labor in New Mexico. Well see. Thanks