Inspector General Report Raises Alarm on Opioids in the Postal Service

A newly released report from the Postal Service’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) expressed concern with the level of opioids prescribed to Postal Service employees under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) program. While other agencies have seen significant reductions in prescriptions over the last few years, the Postal Service’s prescription count is declining at a much slower pace.

Under the Department of Labor FECA program, federal employees injured on the job are compensated for lost wages, help returning to work, medical treatment, and prescription medication.

According to reports from the Department of Labor reviewed in the OIG report, almost 118,000 Postal Service employees--or nearly three percent of the Postal Service’s total workforce--received over 119,000 opioid prescriptions through FECA in 2018, at a cost of $22 million.

The OIG report finds, “Our analysis of FECA program data identified concerns with the level of opioid prescriptions for Postal Service employees as compared with the rest of government and nationally.
Specifically, although the cost of opioid prescriptions for the Postal Service employee FECA population declined from 2016 to 2018, the rate of decline was substantially less than that for other federal agencies. The Postal Service’s rate of decline was about 70 percent of the rate of decline for other federal agencies.”

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a national decline in opioid prescriptions from 2013 to 2017 of about 21 percent, the Postal Service opioid prescription rate only declined by 9 percent over the same time period.

The OIG also found that the risk of misuse of opioids is higher within the federal workforce than other areas of society.

Individuals who receive prescriptions under FECA are still able to receive prescriptions from primary care doctors, thus increasing the likelihood of multiple prescriptions per individual. Already, the number of prescriptions per Postal Service employee under FECA increased from about 6.2 to about 6.8 from 2014 to 2017, despite a nationwide decrease in prescriptions per individual. The OIG warns that “an increasing number of prescriptions per employee could indicate an increased risk of opioid misuse.”

Furthermore, the OIG reports, “It is critical the Postal Service monitor workforce trends in opioid prescriptions because the DOL allows physicians to prescribe opioids to new users for up to 60 days without a letter of medical necessity. This guideline is less restrictive than those of the CDC for three days or less and 25 states for seven days or less. According to a CDC study in 2017, 13.5 percent of people given an opioid prescription for eight or more days were still using them a year later. That rate climbed to 30 percent for those receiving a month-long prescription.”

The OIG recommended several steps the Postal Service could take to better identify and define the problem of opioid use within their workforce as well as comprehensively assist those struggling with drug abuse and addiction.

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