Big Pharma Settlements Nationwide May Help Ease Workplace Opioid Crisis

Chriss Swaney

Sarasota, FL ( – A survey by the National Business Group on Health, a nonprofit association of more than 420 large U.S employers, found that eight of 10 employers were concerned about the opioid crisis at work. Yet, only 30 percent of them reported that they have restrictions in place for prescription opioids.

But a spate of recent giant pharma settlements like Pennsylvania’s recent share of a $48 billion opioid settlement may help ease the workplace opioid crisis. “Under the framework of the proposed settlement, 15 percent would go to state coffers, 15 percent would go to local budgets and the remaining 70 percent would go to a state-administered fund to abate the effects of the opioid crisis, which killed more than 4,000 Pennsylvanians last year,” said Bill Schweers, an assistant professor of political science at Carlow University. “This is a first important step in providing tools for local governments to fight the crisis,” he added.

More states and local municipalities are keeping up the fight against big pharma companies that make money on opioid distribution.

McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, which distribute 90 percent of all the medicine to pharmacies, hospitals and clinics in the U.S., agreed this year to pay $215 million in two Ohio counties that brought the lawsuit.

Dennis Unkovic, a partner with Meyer, Unkovic & Scott LLP and former board chair of Meritas, legal network of 7,400 lawyers in 96 countries, said that “getting the attention of any large company is a challenge. But two things always work: the prospect of negative nationwide publicity reflecting badly on its board of directors and outsized civil fines and penalties undermining a company’s bottom line.”

However, Michelle Zettergren, president, labor, chief sales and marketing officer at MagnaCare, said lawsuits alone are not sufficient to ease the opioid crisis in the workplace; it requires a concerted, multifaceted response from health plans, providers, employers, and the government.

“In January, MagnaCare launched an Opioid Oversight Program, which uses real-time prescription oversight, patient education, intensive case management, physician support and promotion of alternative pain management to reduce long-term opioid use in both new and persistent opioid users,” said Zettergren. “We need more medical management programs like the Opioid Oversight Program as well as a refreshed approach to pain management to not only ease the opioid crisis in the workplace, but to fully tackle it.”

The nonprofit’s survey reveals that tackling the opioid crisis is a full-time job. It reported that prescription-painkiller abuse costs employers almost $42 billion due to loss of productivity, and that providers wrote almost a quarter of a million opioid prescriptions in 2013, enough for every American adult to have his own bottle of pills.

Zettergren was quick to also point out that there is real potential for the big pharma settlements to trickle down into the workplace. “We recently contracted with Tate Grossman Kelly & Iaccarino, an opioid crisis recovery law firm, on behalf of our company and our own employee plan, and we are extending the opportunity to our clients to do the same.”

Some 400,000 people have died of opioid overdoses nationally over the past two decades, authorities say. The crisis also has taken a staggering toll on the nation’s economy, costing an estimated $78.5 billion a year in health care, lost productivity and involvement by the criminal justice system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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