Employers Confronting Opioid Drug Abuse



Employee benefits plans are using their resources to confront the nationwide opioid epidemic, according to a survey conducted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.  

More than one in five employers (22 percent) have conducted a prescription drug claims analysis to identify possible abuse and an additional 20 percent are considering running claims analysis for the same reason, the IFEBP Mental Health and Substance Abuse Benefits study said.   

Employers in the U.S. shared additional strategies they are using to combat opioid drug abuse, chief among them (43 percent) requiring prior authorization of outpatient opioid prescriptions in excess of a specific number of days. 

Additional strategies used by employers to combat prescription drug abuse include: 

•     providing alternative pain management treatments (17 percent); 

•     providing a fraud tip hotline (8 percent); 

•     requiring written permission from a health care provider before a prescription is switched from an abuse-deterrent drug to one that is not (5 percent); or 

•     monitoring hospital discharges to look for drug abuse events (5 percent).

While some employers utilized multiple of the above-listed approaches to combat opioid drug abuse, 21 percent were not sure of their plan’s approaches and 31 percent did not employ any of the listed approaches.  

The study surveyed 344 IFEBP member organizations, including private and public employers in the United States and Canada.

Political pressure to address the nation's growing opioid abuse epidemic has escalated as abuse and overdoses surge.

In October, federal agencies clarified in a set of frequently-asked-questions that group health plans can’t impose stricter financial requirements or treatment limitations on mental health and substance use disorder benefits than they do for medical and surgical benefits. (See related story, Health Plans: Finding Parity for Mental Health Benefits and Opioid Treatment.)

In December, President Obama signed the wide-ranging health package, the 21st Century Cures Act that included $1 billion in state grants to address opioid addiction. (See related story Cures Act Puts HRAs Back on the Table for Small Employers). 

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