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Pharmacy Trends

Ecstasy as PTSD Treatment: Will You Be Footing the Bill?

As cannabis slowly achieves acceptance for treating workers’ comp injuries, reimbursement for the rave drug ecstasy may not be far behind.
By: | May 22, 2018 • 4 min read

With medical marijuana being used more frequently in the treatment of workers’ comp patients, ecstasy — widely known as a rave-culture party drug — may be next.

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Researchers found that two doses of ecstasy, termed 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA — in conjunction with psychotherapy — reduced the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms of 26 veterans and first responders in a “Phase 2” trial, according to a study published in the British journal The Lancet Psychiatry.

The Food and Drug Administration has already given MDMA “breakthrough therapy status” based on earlier results, which could expedite approval, The New York Times writes. Larger, “Phase 3” trials are set to start this summer, and if all goes well, the drug could be approved for legal use by 2021.

A small number of states, including Colorado, Vermont and Texas, cover PTSD under their workers’ compensation statutes. But recent mass tragedies such as the Santa Fe High School shooting have brought renewed focus to the impact of such events on emergency personnel.

Florida and Minnesota both passed bills this year that will allow workers’ comp benefits for first responders with PTSD injuries. A measure in New Hampshire is under consideration.

As more states follow suit and PTSD claims rise, does the potential acceptance of MDMA worry workers’ comp professionals at all? It’s complicated, experts say.

Lisa M. Haug, director of medical management, Safety National

“The first concern I had upon reading about the potential use of ecstasy for treatment of PTSD is whether this could further open up Pandora’s box, especially at a time when drug abuse is on the rise,” said Lisa M. Haug, director of medical management, Safety National, in St. Louis.

Haug is also concerned about the long-term effects of such treatment, the potential side effects and the costs. However, on the flip side, the limited study showed some potential when the drug was being used under a very controlled environment in conjunction with psychotherapy.

“While it is too early to consider ecstasy as a treatment option in workers’ compensation, we cannot say it would never be deemed appropriate,” she said. “It was not that long ago that people felt medical cannabis had no role in workers’ compensation, and now we have seen several states order this treatment and some patients have positive results with it.”

Dr. Robert L. Goldberg, chief medical officer, PBM Healthesystems, in Tampa, Fla., said the research shows a high degree of efficacy with the treatment level dosing, as compared to the control low dose of MDMA that was provided.

“Shown in a small group, this can be very effective — when paired with psychotherapy, which is the really important distinction here,” Dr. Goldberg said.

Secondly, the research study was small — a Phase 2 trial with only 26 patients, he said. As such, both the medical community and the workers’ comp community should not get “too excited” either positively or negatively about MDMA being adopted as a treatment until larger Phase 3 trials are undertaken.

“Many times in smaller trials, you do get good results and lower incidence of side effects, but the results of the complete trial might not be quite as good, or the side effects profile might become more apparent,” Dr. Goldberg said.

Standardization Will Speed Acceptance

Some of the concerns about how medical marijuana is currently “administered” — in the loosest sense of that word, could spill over to the use of ecstasy in workers’ comp claims — that is, unless the drugs can be standardized, he said.

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“With medical marijuana, it’s all self-dosing, even within a workers’ comp claim,” he said. “In a handful of states, the courts have decided that payers have to be reimbursed for medical marijuana if it was based on a recommendation by a physician, though in some states it’s by a designated expert, not just the treating physician. Yet the amount of marijuana is variable, so payers are still obligated while there’s no standardization for dosage or cost.”

“The first concern I had upon reading about the potential use of ecstasy for treatment of PTSD is whether this could further open up Pandora’s box, especially at a time when drug abuse is on the rise.” — Lisa M. Haug, director of medical management, Safety National

New Mexico set a maximum reimbursement level, but not for dosage. The good news, Dr. Goldberg said, is that once a dosage standard is established, medical marijuana will be manufactured just like any other medication in the U.S., enabling doctors to more easily prescribe and dispense the drug.

The same could be true for MDMA, though the route could be quicker, he said. Once it becomes scheduled, it will likely be a Schedule 2 or 3 drug. However, people who are self-dosing outside of clinical trials “really won’t know what they are getting on the street” — the drug may have other hallucinogens, contaminants or adulterants in it.

“But there’s a clearer path with MDMA and these trials, which could result in it being manufactured much more quickly with the proper processes, just like any standard medications such as ibuprofen,” Dr. Goldberg said.

“However, you’ll still have the same issues as with medical marijuana about how long the effects are going to last and if you can function at work after taking the medication,” he added. &

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession: Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

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I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

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Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

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A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]