New restrictions on how long injured federal workers can get prescription opioids have been implemented by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP), as a way of protecting the workers from the risks of long-term opioid use.

A 7-day limit

The DOL controls – which impose a 7-day limit on the initial fill of an opioid prescription - will apply to injured federal workers receiving benefits under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA).

The weeklong limit follows CDC guidelines and is consistent with restrictions now in place in states across the country. Day-supply limits on initial opioid prescriptions have been a widely used strategy to reduce the chances of unintended chronic opioid use. A limit on additional opioid prescriptions, however, is less common. The DOL says it’s taking the additional step to limit the number of subsequent opioid prescriptions. 

The new policy allows filling three subsequent 7-day opioid prescriptions for a maximum of 28-days, but requires prior Departmental approval for any prescription beyond this period. To obtain the approval, the prescribing provider must complete a detailed evaluation of the injured worker and certify the medical need for additional opioids. The Department's FECA Medical Benefits Examiners will review these evaluations.

Tailored treatment, fraud detection

The federal government’s plan for combating the opioid epidemic among workers centers on four areas: effective controls, tailored treatment, impactful communications and aggressive fraud detection.

The latest data shows:

  • a 34 percent decline in overall opioid use among injured federal workers
  • a 25% decline in new opioid prescriptions
  • a 54% decline in new opioid prescriptions lasting more than 30 days
  • a 71% drop in claimants with a morphine equivalent dose (MED) of 500 or more, and
  • a 43% drop in users with an MED of 90 or more. 

OWCP provides wage replacement benefits, medical benefits, vocational rehabilitation and other benefits to federal workers who sustain a work-related injury or occupational disease. The workers' compensation healthcare costs for injured federal workers have averaged nearly $1 billion annually over the past several years.