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A New Federal Policy Aims to Limit Opioid Use for Injured Workers

On September 23, 2019, the Division of Federal Employees’ Compensation (DFEC) set forth a policy aimed to help injured federal workers during their recovery process. Specifically, a policy was established to assist these injured workers with adjusting to opioid treatment by limiting the dosage amount of newly prescribed opioids. In this article, the Sarasota construction attorneys of Cotney Construction Law will discuss the Opioid Crisis and this new federal opioid policy. As a Sarasota construction law firm, we will also provide some legal advice related to drug and alcohol policies for your employee manual. 

If your construction business requires employee handbook drafting or review, including policies related to drug or alcohol use, consult our Sarasota construction lawyers today. 

Opioid Use in the Construction Industry

In the past, we have discussed how the Opioid Crisis continues to greatly impact the nation, including the construction industry. Construction business owners have to accept the facts. The modern construction worker is over the age of 40 and, in many cases, experiencing ongoing injuries, such as a bad back or muscle soreness. With project deadlines and a litany of other pressing matters, many workers will push through their injury issues so they can finish projects on time. When there is severe pain, over-the-counter pain relievers may not be enough, in which case an injured worker will be prescribed opioids. If they cannot obtain a prescription, they may still find them elsewhere. This mentality can lead to a lot of long-term health problems and safety issues for jobsites.  

Prescription Opioids Can Lead to Addiction

Although there are many types of drugs that classify as opioids, opioids are generally a type of narcotic pain medication used to treat patients afflicted with a severe level of pain. These drugs present serious side effects when they are abused or used incorrectly. Many drug addictions begin with a prescription for oxycodone, morphine, methadone, hydrocodone, codeine, or fentanyl. These are all common opioid medications. Sadly, what started as a perceived harmless use of prescription opioids can lead to an addiction to illegal drugs, including heroin. In fact, one recent survey states that a person who is addicted to prescription opioids is over 40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin than non-opioid users.       

Drug Addiction Can Lead to Liability Issues

Workers under the influence of drugs or alcohol present a myriad of liability issues for employers. Considering the average worker is required to operate dangerous equipment in confined spaces, a worker under the influence presents several safety risks to the jobsite. Whether it’s the ever present dangers located on the construction site or the long-term effects of drug use or the risk of overdose, construction sites can have no person under the influence at the jobsite. Federal organizations are now going the extra mile by implementing changes to their policies to ensure workers recovering from injury do not become susceptible to opioid addiction.   

A New Federal Policy That Limits Opioid Prescriptions

The Office of Workers’ Compensation Program (OWCP) recognizes that there is a nationwide opioid epidemic and has recently implemented changes to their federal program to combat opioid addiction. Under this new policy, opioid medications prescribed for new users will be much more limited in total dosage. 

Here is more information on the requirements within this new action item:

  • As of September 2019, new opioid users will experience limited initial fills of medication. In fact, for a new single fill, the user will be provided with only a 7-day supply. 
  • The worker can refill this prescription no more than three times. In other words, the injured worker can be prescribed opioids for a total of 28 days.
  • If the worker needs access to opioid medications after 28 days, the prescribing physician is required to complete a letter of medical necessity (LMN). The physician must then seek approval from the DFEC to provide additional treatment to the patient prior to prescribing the medication.  
  • A physician must begin this process of providing an extension within nine days of the end of the patient’s first 28 days of treatment. 
  • Following the 28-day period of being prescribed opioids, a worker that goes through the LMN process can continue limited dosage for a maximum of 60 days in total.
  • These requirements can be waived for workers that are either going through cancer treatment or for patients that were involved in a catastrophic injury case (“multiple major injuries” or “severe burns”). 
  • If more than six months have passed since the worker’s last opioid prescription was filled, the worker is considered a “new” patient again and must begin this process over by starting with a 7-day supply.  
  • A patient should only be prescribed one opioid medication at a time for their first 28 days of treatment. For patients undergoing up to 60 days of treatment, they may be prescribed up to two types of opioid medications.  

The short-term goal of implementing these rules is to reduce the number of first-time opioid users that become dependent on the prescription drugs by limiting their initial supply and the duration of treatment. The long-term goal of OWCP is to identify risks associated with patients with opioid prescriptions and to ensure that injured workers are receiving their prescription based on their medical needs and not subjective complaints. OWCP aims to eliminate opioid abuse and workers’ compensation fraud associated with prescription opioid use so that everyone involved in this process can collectively make more informed decisions regarding treatment options. 

Consult a Construction Attorney 

As this is a brand new policy implemented by the DFEC, we will have to wait and see if limiting prescription opioid supplies has a positive effect on federal return to work programs. In the meantime, private companies should review their own drug-free workplace programs and their employee manual with a Lakeland construction lawyer. Here are a few additional benefits to partnering with a construction lawyer in regard to your company’s drug and alcohol policies:

  • Employee Manual: Whether you own a small construction business that needs a revamped employee manual or you own a large firm that needs amendments added to an existing employee manual, consult a Lakeland construction attorney. We can create clearly written policies related to drug and alcohol use in the workplace.  
  • Implement a Drug Program: In order to develop an effective drug program, employers must first evaluate their workplace and develop policies that align with their operation’s needs and state and federal regulations. This includes implementing drug-free workplace related content into safety training and education courses as well as implementing other types of effective programs. 
  • Consider a Drug Testing Program: Many construction firms implement a required drug testing program to identify any employees violating their agreement. Whether it’s random testing, application testing, or testing suspected offenders or workers in safety-sensitive positions, consult our Lakeland construction attorneys to ensure that your company policies comply with state and federal regulations and also the requirements of insurance carriers. 
  • Fine-Tune a Return to Work and Employee Assistance Program: Whether employees need an employee assistance program to address a substance use problem, or employees returning to work require an accommodation, it’s important that construction companies have programs in place to educate, train, and provide assistance for employees when they need it.      

If you would like to speak with a Sarasota construction attorney, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.