The Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation on Saturday will begin phasing out coverage for the prescription opioid OxyContin — the powerful painkiller many say is to blame for kick-starting the nation's opioid crisis.
The bureau said that “given the potential for abuse, misuse, addiction, and dependence,” it will no longer pay for OxyContin or generic sustained-release oxycodone tablets for workers who suffer on-the-job injuries on or after June 1. Injured workers currently on those medications will have until Dec. 31 to discontinue their use or switch to a different product on the agency’s formulary.
“We are encouraging injured workers to discuss with their physicians other effective painkillers on our formulary and to explore non-medication treatment options for chronic pain,” Bureau of Workers' Compensation Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud said in a news release issued Friday.
“Our priority remains the health and safety of our injured workers, which can be more challenging when an addiction enters the mix.”
The bureau's board of directors approved the phase-out plan in February, following a recommendation from the bureau's Chief Medical Officer Terry Welsh to replace OxyContin with Xtampza ER.
“Xtampza is a sustained-release form of oxycodone, like OxyContin, but it utilizes a unique abuse-deterrent technology that makes it difficult to manipulate — crush, snort or inject — for aberrant use,” Welsh said in a news release issued in February.
The board’s February vote followed other changes made by the agency in response to the opioid crisis, including creating a better monitoring system. Between 2011 and 2018, the number of opioid doses prescribed in the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation system fell 66 percent, the agency said.
McCloud, the agency's administrator/CEO, said in the Friday news release that workers who want to discontinue opioid use altogether should talk to their physician or bureau-contracted managed care organization. The agency will reimburse for certain services.
The rule does not apply to immediate-release oxycodone, a medication used for acute pain.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration said that abrupt tapering or sudden discontinuation of opioids can result in severe opioid withdrawal symptoms, "including pain and pyschological distress, and some patients might seek other sources of opioids."
Earlier this spring, OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and the company's controlling family agreed to pay a groundbreaking $270 million to Oklahoma to settle allegations they helped create the nation's deadly opioid crisis with their aggressive marketing of the drug.
It is the first settlement to come out of the recent coast-to-coast wave of nearly 2,000 lawsuits against the company.