It is good to see the state of Ohio strive to help injured workers also avoid the added pain of opioid addiction.
That’s the intended outcome of a decision by the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to no longer cover prescriptions for OxyContin, the highly addictive painkiller that has been fingered as the villain at the core of the nation’s opioid crisis. It makes sense for BWC to act consistently with the state’s push against the drug over which it sued manufacturer Purdue Pharma of Stamford, Connecticut, along with four other drug manufacturers.
As Ohio attorney general, Gov. Mike DeWine filed suit in May 2017 accusing the pharmaceutical manufacturers of being responsible for “human tragedy of epic proportion” with thousands of Ohioans becoming addicted to opioids through use of OxyContin and other prescription painkillers.
The addictions have been blamed for record numbers of overdose deaths, with Ohio second only to West Virginia in per capita OD death rates.
The number of deaths grew even after the state sued, with Ohio recording 4,854 unintended fatal drug overdoses in 2017, up from 4,050 in 2016. And the 2016 count represented a 33 percent increase from the year before, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Illegal fentanyl and other street drugs are blamed for most of the OD deaths in recent years, with fatal overdoses linked to prescription-drug use falling to an eight-year low in 2017, according to the health department. But the pathway to those dangerous street drugs often began with an OxyContin prescription.
If there is a bright spot in this plague, it is that efforts to reduce the number of opioids being prescribed has been greatly aided as opioid pill mills were systematically shut down and physicians were sensitized to the dangers of addiction.
For injured workers covered by BWC, opioid prescriptions fell 66 percent from 2011 to 2018, although more than 1,000 still take a form of OxyContin for their pain and will be gradually transitioned to other alternatives.
The health department said in its report on 2017 drug overdoses that the state is spending $1 billion a year to fight drug abuse and addiction.
That’s all the more reason for BWC to stop covering new OxyContin prescriptions effective June 1, when it will switch to a sustained-release version of oxycodone that is less susceptible to addiction.