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Opioid Risks

Latest NFL Suit Reflects Broader Opioid Issues

Former players accuse the league of misuse of prescription painkillers.
By: | August 18, 2014 • 4 min read

The problem of over-dependence on opioids in workers’ compensation is well-documented and well-publicized, but it’s being brought to attention in a different light in a recent lawsuit against the NFL.

Nine ex-players are arguing that the league put their health in jeopardy by prescribing powerful painkillers to treat injuries and combining medications into dangerous “drug cocktails” without informing of them of their addictive properties and negative side effects. The plaintiffs allege that “in contravention of Federal criminal laws, the NFL has intentionally, recklessly and negligently created and maintained a culture of drug misuse, putting profit in place of players’ health.”

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Lots of questions will need to be answered before it can be determined whether the suit holds any water. Are players considered employees of the NFL? Were the prescribing practices of their treating physicians actually illegal? Should the players have taken a more active role in determining their treatment and ability to play? Can they prove that any ongoing health issues are the result of treatment they received as players?

The league will likely use exclusive remedy as their defense, an approach challenged by the concussion lawsuit settled last year, which the league ultimately settled by establishing a fund for the treatment of former players. The strength of the exclusive remedy defense will hinge upon whether team physicians broke the law by distributing addictive painkillers and not fully educating players about their side effects.

“In the NFL and other sports, if you’re a starting player and hurt your hamstring, there are three other guys that will take your place if you don’t get back on the field.” — Mark Pew, senior vice president, PRIUM

That defense may also be weakened by an Aug. 13 ruling out of a Miami-Dade circuit court that declares Florida’s exclusive remedy provision unconstitutional on the grounds that the state’s benefits to injured workers have gradually eroded. Judge Jorge E. Cueto’s ruling states that “the benefits in the act have been so decimated, since its implementation 40 years ago, “that it no longer provides a reasonable alternative” to civil court.

Opioid Problem Persists

The lawsuit highlights the unique environment that professional sports players work in.

“Players are hyper motivated to get back on the field,” said Mark Pew, senior vice president at PRIUM. “The average worker doesn’t necessarily lose their job if they get injured. Those that don’t have the discipline to get back to work, they get comfortable staying at home. In the NFL and other sports, if you’re a starting player and hurt your hamstring, there are three other guys that will take your place if you don’t get back on the field.”

With their own trainers, physical therapists and physicians on staff, pro sports teams are also insulated from the general healthcare system. The plaintiffs allege that teams kept poor records of treatment history and “directly and indirectly” supplied players with un-prescribed narcotics to manage pain, a violation of federal drug laws. The “constant diet” of pain pills led some of the players into full-blown addiction.

Though players’ circumstances differ dramatically from the average worker’s, the suit reflects conversations taking place across the country about misuse of opioids in workers’ compensation.

“A 2013 NCCI study found that prescription drugs were 18% of all medical costs in workers’ comp, which is very high when you take into account all the expensive medical procedures and treatments that workers’ comp pays for, including catastrophic claims all the way down to sprained ankles,” Pew said.

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Payers tend to avoid more conservative treatment options because they have a history of over utilization, and they don’t want to get stuck paying for lifestyle management for the rest of a claimant’s life. Paying for yoga and gym memberships – things that increase functionality and flexibility and can help manage chronic pain – are seen as too alternative.

But, as Pew said, “the pendulum is beginning to swing in the other direction.” Just as exclusive remedy comes under fire, more workers’ comp payers and healthcare providers are seeking ways to reduce dependence on opioids and pursue more conservative treatments like physical therapy to deal with chronic pain.

Even the pro sports leagues.

“Sports teams have everything at their disposal to go with more conservative options,” Pew said.

“Everyone owns their own healthcare. You should question the treatment that’s been provided. Though there’s still a concept that doctors are never wrong, patients need to understand treatment options.”

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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

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]