The Department of Labor is hoping that a new contract designed to provide more insight and safety control measures for its workers compensation program will help to combat opioid abuse among injured federal workers.

The agency Sept. 10 reaffirmed its contract award to Coventry Health Care Workers’ Compensation Inc., which will give injured workers increased access to medications and the ability to search for their medication authorization status. Meanwhile, the agency will receive better insight into the kinds of medications prescribed to injured workers and pharmacists will automatically be notified with any safety concerns associated with the medication.

"Today is a very encouraging day for the effective treatment of injured federal workers," said acting Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella in a news release.

"We have made significant improvements in reducing opioid use and will now have additional tools necessary to expand efforts to improve the safety and quality of medication delivery for all injured federal workers, while also being good stewards of taxpayer dollars."

Witnesses and members of Congress at a May 2018 hearing criticized the Department of Labor for remaining well behind established standards for opioid use in administering the Federal Employee Compensation Act program, which provides compensation and treatment to federal employees injured on the job.

Those Labor policies allowed employees to be prescribed opioids for 60 days before requiring a letter of medical necessity from a doctor and allowed for patients to receive two different opioid prescriptions at once.

Standard practice suggests a seven-day limit for a single opioid prescription.

“With a larger team of pharmacists and nurses available through Coventry, the Department will now have the ability to review an expanded list of injured worker medication profiles, and to perform outreach to prescribers,” the agency news release said.

“To date, this intensive outreach has only been available to a group of injured workers prescribed opioids at a high dosage. This will allow injured federal workers to receive the best possible medication regimens for their needs.”

U.S. Postal Service workers are the most likely employees to receive opioid prescriptions under the FECA program, according to the U.S. Postal Service Inspector General, and account for nearly half of the costs incurred by opioid prescriptions under FECA.