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Shifting Our Focus to Preventing Negative Outcomes from Opioids

Preventing negative outcomes from the treatment associated with a workplace injury is just as critical as preventing the injury from happening.
By: | May 18, 2017 • 6 min read

Providing people who want to work, the opportunity to work is not only important to individual families but also the economy. When workers are injured, they may lose that opportunity. Preventing work injuries from happening in the first place is far and away the best way to keep workers from becoming injured workers. When injuries do happen, it is imperative for all involved, to focus on getting workers healthy and back to their lives.

Once an injury has taken place, a lot can happen during the course of treatment that ultimately will lead to positive or negative outcomes. Preventing negative outcomes from the treatment associated with an injury is just as important as preventing the workplace injury in the first place. To prevent injuries we implement and encourage proper training, awareness and safety protocols. Similar protocols should be used to prevent negative outcomes during the course of treatment so injured workers can return to the most productive life possible.

How can we prevent negative outcomes from happening in the course of treatment of an injured worker? If the course of treatment was process mapped, we might find several gaps in care that could affect outcomes. Importantly, a major gap in care for many would relate to the opioid epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that as many as 1 in 4 patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting, struggle with addiction.1 And, “we now know that overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving factor in the 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths.”2 At their best, opioids are valuable tools in mitigating intense acute pain helping injured workers get through the toughest portions of their pain and onto the road to recovery. At their worst, opioids are an intensely addictive therapy that has led to 91 Americans dying every day from overdoses.2

While recent initiatives such as improving access to care for those addicted to opioids, and expanding access to the life-saving drug naloxone used in opioid overdose are important steps towards addressing the epidemic for those that have already developed a negative outcome, we also need to focus on preventing negative outcomes from happening in the first place. To do this, it has become clear that there needs to be a multifaceted approach that identifies a goal and establishes a methodology to achieve that goal for the injured worker. Process models would challenge us to capitalize on available resources and remove wasted steps to be able to identify, maintain and sustain process improvement towards improving opioid epidemic related problems. The process of treatment within Workers’ Compensation is a team effort among many people who influence the care an injured worker receives and as such an approach that utilizes each team member’s expertise as a resource will be useful.

Stephanie Labonville, PharmD, CPE, BCPS, Director of Clinical Operations

The pharmacist role is an evolving and often underutilized available resource that can be instrumental in a multifaceted approach towards preventing negative outcomes. As experts in medication, pharmacists’ skills and knowledge are valuable resources and they have the ability to contribute to integrated care teams by detecting and resolving or preventing drug related problems, helping to ensure the safe and efficacious use of medicines and providing comprehensive drug information to patients and other health care professionals, thereby reinforcing prevention of negative outcomes.

As an industry, we must focus on our role in appropriate and safe pain management. This focus must take into consideration the CDC’s calling on dispensing pharmacists to be on the front lines of addressing prescription opioid abuse and overdose.3 Dispensing pharmacists as part of a Workers’ Compensation PBM must take this front-line role to a value-added level and develop specific program solutions focused on opioid related problems such as Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) reviews and education of injured workers and communication with their physicians regarding high-risk drug combinations, high risk opioid doses and safer alternative treatment regimens.

Some drug combinations can be extremely dangerous. For example, there has been much written about the “holy trinity” of drugs: opioids, benzodiazepines and carisoprodol (Soma) and the serious danger inherent in taking 2 or 3 of these together.4,5 Can we really afford to use a pharmacy or PBM that doesn’t have a standardized approach to this combination or one who does not take action before the combinations of medications are dispensed? We need specific programs that reach out to the patient and prescribing physicians on these specific risky drug combinations prior to their dispensing.

Pharmacists who can access state PDMPs can help identify patients at increased risk of overdose, such as those taking high dosages or obtaining opioids from multiple prescribers. They can then help monitor the patient and their prescriptions allowing for proactive consultation with the injured worker and prescriber prior to dispensing high-risk medications.

In addition to consulting with physicians regarding opioid addiction and high-risk drug combinations, it is important for the pharmacist to be able to alert a prescriber to pertinent legislative rule(s) for their state and their patient’s morphine milligram equivalent (MME) before the pills are dispensed. Choosing a PBM with this capability can be critical to preventing negative outcomes.

As injured workers are educated about what medications may work best for them as well as potential risks of various medications or combinations of medications, they are provided the opportunity to become advocates for themselves. We need to ensure that dispensing pharmacists have experienced insight into pain management within Workers’ Compensation, which they can then use to educate patients. Pharmacists as part of the injured worker’s treatment team can use a variety of ways to educate patients including direct phone calls and subsequent informational pieces that address pain management e.g., “If not opioids, then what?”

Many injured workers are scared that their pain will be unmanageable without opioids. Learning that outcomes and pain management are often improved through the use of tapers, other non -addictive medications, non-drug therapies like; cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), massage, movement therapies, socialization, healthier food and lifestyle decisions, will provide the injured workers the resources and support to get on the road to recovery and return them to what they deserve: the opportunity to return to a productive life. The equipped dispensing pharmacist must be an integral member of the medical treatment team to make that a reality.

We can, as an industry, work towards this goal of keeping workers participating in the workforce and in their life by ensuring that we involve knowledgeable, experienced dispensing pharmacists in the treatment plan of our complex cases before a potentially risky pain medication regimen is determined, prescribed and dispensed.

Let’s help protect our most important national resource: our workers before they become statistics, by focusing on prevention as well as management of this problem.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Specialty Solutions Rx. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




Specialty Solutions Rx is a full service workers’ compensation PBM that was designed to proactively and effectively address opioids and other high risk medications.

Risk Management

The Profession

Maila Aganon is the personification of the American dream. The vice president of treasury and risk for Caesars Entertainment Corp. immigrated from the Philippines and worked her way to the top.
By: | October 12, 2017 • 4 min read


R&I: What was your first job?

I actually had three first jobs at the same time at the age of 16. I worked as a cashier in a fast-food restaurant, a bank teller and a debt collector for an immigration law firm.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I have a few. The first one would be the first risk manager I reported to. He taught me the technical part of the job, risk financing, captives and insurance. I am also privileged to be mentored by Lori Goltermann (CEO of U.S. Retail for Aon Risk Solutions).  From her I learned to be resilient and optimize life/work balance. Then of course I also have a circle of ladies at work who I lean in to!

R&I: How did you come to work in this industry?

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I was once a bank teller and had a client who was an insurance agent. He would come in every day to make deposits. One day, he offered me a job. He said, “How would you like to have your own desk, your own phone and your own computer?” And I said, “When do I start?” I worked for this personal lines insurance company for six years.

R&I: Did you take to it immediately?

Yes, I did sales, claims and insurance accounting. I left for a couple years and that is when AAA came calling, which was my first introduction to risk management. I didn’t know there was such a thing as commercial insurance. They called me and the pitch was “how would you like to run a captive insurance company?”

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

It is not so much the job but I say that I am the true product of the American Dream. I came to the U.S. when I was 16. I worked three jobs because I didn’t want to go to high school (She’d already graduated high school in the Philippines.) I spoke very little English, and due to hard work, grit and a great smile I’m now here working with all of you!

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

In movies, it is a toss-up between Gone with the Wind and Big Daddy.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

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I like anything sweet. If you liquify a dessert that’s my perfect drink.

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

This is easy because I just got back from Barcelona on a side trip. I visited the Montserrat Monastery, which is a thousand-year old monastery. It was raining and foggy. I hiked for three hours and I didn’t see a single soul. It was a very peaceful place.

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

This is going back to working at a fast food chain when I was young. I worked in a very undesirable location in San Francisco. At 16 I used to negotiate with gang members so they wouldn’t rob me during my shift. I had to give them chicken so they wouldn’t rob me.

Maila Aganon, VP, Treasury and Risk, Caesars Entertainment Corp.

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

I can’t say me. They have to be my kids Kyle and Hailey. They can make me laugh and cry within a half-minute of each other. Kyle is 10, a perfect Mama’s boy. Hailey is seven going on 18.

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

I think the most fulfilling part is how you build relationships with people and then after a while they become your friends.

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

Risk managers do a great job of networking. They are number one. Which is not a surprise because the pillar of our work is building a relationship with underwriters, clients and brokers.

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

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I am experiencing that right now; talent.  We need to a better job in attracting and retaining talent. Nobody knows about what we do. You tell someone ‘I’m as risk manager’ and they give you a blank look. What does that mean?

We’re great marketers and we should use this skill set in attracting talent. We should engage our universities, our communities, even our yoga groups and talk to them about the exciting world of risk. It is an exciting career because there is nothing like it.

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

It would have to be the increasing cyber risk and the interdependency of systems.

R&I: What does your family think you do? 

I took my seven year old daughter once to an insurance event that had live music, dancing and drinks. She thinks that whenever I go to an insurance meeting, I’m heading to a party.




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