BWC adds three counties to worker recovery program

By Widlynn Milor, BWC Communications Department Intern

BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud visited London, Ohio, on Tuesday, Feb. 4 to announce Clark, Greene, and Madison counties have joined a BWC program that encourages employers to hire workers in recovery from substance use disorder.

Under BWC’s Substance Use Recovery and Workplace Safety Program (SUR-WSP), BWC will pay for drug screenings and special training for managers to help local employers hire, better manage, and retain workers recovering from addiction to opioids and other dangerous substances.

“This is about workplace safety and meeting the challenges Governor DeWine outlined in his RecoveryOhio initiative,” Administrator McCloud told an audience of public leaders and recovery experts gathered at the Madison County Municipal Courthouse. “We know when workers in recovery get a job, they are more likely to stay on a successful path. In addition, the special training managers receive emphasizes safety and appropriate strategies that benefit the worker and employer both.”

SUR-WSP launched in October 2018 in three counties: Montgomery, Ross and Scioto. Governor DeWine expanded the program in BWC’s latest budget, pledging up to $15 million over 2020 and 2021 to include nine more counties.

The program is funded by BWC but is administered by local Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health (ADAMH) boards or similar boards. Mental Health & Recovery Board of Clark, Greene & Madison Counties (MHRB) will be leading efforts in its jurisdiction.

“The Mental Health & Recovery Board of Clark, Greene & Madison Counties is thrilled to join this effort,” said Greta Mayer, chief executive officer at MHRB. “Our board is investing heavily in workplace and workforce efforts, because we know that it is beneficial for both employers and people in recovery.”

MHRB will identify eligible employers and employees, disperse funding, and measure results. BWC funds cover the following:

  • Reimbursement for pre-employment, random and reasonable suspicion drug testing.
  • Training for managers/supervisors to help them better manage a workforce that includes individuals in recovery.

More information can be found on our website.

BWC a force for growth, workplace safety, opioid solutions in 2019

By Stephanie McCloud, Administrator/CEO, Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation

Some might view the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation as a purely reactive agency — we compensate injured workers and help them get back to work, health, and life after a workplace injury.

But as I reach my 1-year anniversary this week as BWC’s administrator and CEO, I’m struck at just how proactive we were in 2019, all to the benefit of working Ohioans, employers, and our economy.

Taking direction from Gov. Mike DeWine, our actions fostered business and job growth, created safer workplaces, and continued to battle the opioid and substance use epidemic devastating our state and nation.

I traveled across our state last year meeting business owners, local leaders, and other Ohioans both delighted and grateful for our efforts to keep workers’ compensation costs low and safety awareness high. Indeed, our list of accomplishments is impressive, and I never tire of talking about them!

Creating safe, healthy workplaces
We secured an unprecedented $40 million in our two-year budget for our Safety Grants program, allowing us to reach even more employers focused on workplace safety.

These grants, up to $40,000 per employer, provide private and public State Insurance Fund employers funding for training, wellness programs, and equipment intended to reduce the risk of workplace injuries and illnesses. These dollars purchase body armor for law enforcement, protect fire fighters from carcinogens, and improve the safety and security of the workers and students in our schools, among others.

To date this fiscal year, we have approved the following:

  • $8.2 million in School Safety and Security Grants for nearly 300 schools and school districts to purchase security doors and cameras, metal detectors, shatter proofing window film and the like.
  • $5 million in Safety Intervention Grants for manufacturers and other businesses.
  • $1.2 million in Ohio Law Enforcement Body Armor grants, a program administered by the Ohio Attorney General’s office.
  • Nearly $725,000 for fire departments to protect firefighters from carcinogens and other toxins with special gear and industrial washing machines/extractors.
  • $247,000 to protect social workers and others who work with people with disabilities.
  • $82,000 in Workplace Wellness Grants to help employers establish wellness programs.

Our Safety Grants Program has proven so popular in the employer community that we have already reached our 2020 appropriation of $20 million!

Battling opioids and the substance use epidemic
Following Governor DeWine’s RecoveryOhio initiative, we continued our effort to mitigate the impact of the opioid and substance use epidemic on our workforce and broader community.

  • We removed Oxycontin from our formulary on June 1 and replaced it with painkillers that have stronger abuse-deterrent technology.
  • With Governor DeWine at our side, we launched our drug disposal program Nov. 1, providing injured workers with free disposal products that destroy leftover opioids so they won’t fall into the wrong hands. We know of no other workers’ comp system in the country doing this.
  • We secured $15 million over 2020-2021 for our Substance Use Recovery and Workplace Safety Program, which encourages employers to hire workers recovering from addiction. The program helps employers fill job openings and workers stay on a clean, successful path.
  • With encouragement from Governor DeWine, we have expanded this program this year from three counties (Montgomery, Ross, Scioto) to include Lawrence, Pike, Mahoning and Lorain counties. Clark, Greene and Madison counties are pending.

Improving Customer Service
At the core of everything we do each and every day is this question: How can we best serve our customers? That guiding principle led to several initiatives in 2019.

  • New tech protects our customers’ credit card information. We’re always looking for new ways to protect our customers’ information, which was the primary goal of a recent upgrade to our credit card payment system.

On June 12, a third-party vendor began managing our employers’ credit card information. Employers may notice the new automated process when they call our contact center to pay their premium with a credit card. Our representatives still handle the phone calls – they just activate the new, secure payment system when it’s time to collect credit card information. Kiosks at each of our service offices now also accommodate those who wish to pay in person with a credit card. The process to pay premiums online at www.bwc.ohio.gov remains the same.

  • Improving stakeholder correspondence. A largescale project is underway to review and rewrite hundreds of pieces of correspondence with the goal of simplifying and humanizing our communications, providing a better experience for everyone who interacts with our agency.
  • Safety messaging. BWC created a webpage to serve as an archive for our safety bulletins: https://info.bwc.ohio.gov/wps/portal/bwc/site/safety/bwc-library/safety-bulletins/. These bulletins are meant to provide safety tips and resources about urgent safety topics affecting Ohio’s workers.

Customer feedback
Whew! That is some list of accomplishments! But when it comes to our good work, you don’t have to take my word alone for it.

Watch these YouTube videos of business leaders talking about BWC as a true partner.

Watch this news coverage of the day we launched our Opioid Disposal Bag initiative and read the editorial by the Toledo Blade.

Moving forward
All of this would not have been possible without the support of so many, including Gov. DeWine, our BWC board, Ohio lawmakers, and the employers and workers in this state who put a premium on workplace safety.

I also owe it to the nearly 1,800 BWC employees around Ohio who are dedicated to making a meaningful difference in people’s lives. I am honored to work with them. Their work over the last year showed me that we are truly a people-focused agency determined to provide the best service possible to our customers — Ohio’s employer community and workforce.

I am confident 2019 is just the baseline for an even better 2020. Stay tuned.

BWC to cover drug disposal bags for opioid prescriptions

By Miranda Williams, PharmD, RPh, Director of BWC’s Pharmacy Program

In our latest step to mitigate the opioid epidemic on Ohio’s workforce, we will provide injured workers with drug disposal bags that destroy leftover opioids.

Governor Mike DeWine, BWC Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud and RecoveryOhio Director Alisha Nelson announced this new statewide effort Thursday, Oct. 17, in Columbus at a local pharmacy.

You may view the announcement on BWC’s Facebook page. In addition, many media outlets attended the event. Here are some of the stories: Click here for WSYX-TV, ABC 6, in Columbus and here for the Statehouse News Bureau story.

Starting Nov. 1, retail pharmacies will automatically issue the disposal bags to Ohio injured workers receiving an opioid prescription for the first time within the last 12 months.

The bags destroy opioid pills, liquids, and patches in a chemical process rendering them useless.

Unused medications
“Newly injured workers don’t always need every opioid pill in their prescription, and this new effort will simplify the process for safely disposing of these dangerous drugs,” said Governor DeWine, who praised BWC for the initiative. “By giving these drug disposal bags to injured workers at the time they fill a prescription, we can not only educate them about the dangers of opioid addiction, but also reduce the risk that unused pills will end up where they shouldn’t – in the hands of children, for example.”

We’re covering the cost of every disposal bag, so there is no cost to the pharmacy, the injured worker, and the employer. “The bag is extremely simple to use and it’s completely biodegradable,” noted Administrator McCloud.

The bags destroy the drugs in a simple process, as Administrator McCloud and Governor DeWine demonstrated during the news conference:

  1. Toss any unused medication into the bag.
  2. Fill it with warm water and wait 30 seconds.
  3. Seal it and shake it. Throw the bag out.

“Along with the Governor’s RecoveryOhio initiative, we want to safeguard our community’s medicine cabinets from becoming gateways to youth and adult drug experimentation,” said Administrator McCloud.

Gov. DeWine and Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud demonstrate how to use the drug disposal bag.

Here’s a sobering statistic from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Nearly one-third of people ages 12 and over who used drugs for the first time began by using a prescription drug for non-medical purposes.

The disposal bags are one more tool in BWC’s comprehensive program to mitigate the opioid epidemic’s impact on Ohio’s workforce. Earlier this year, we dropped Oxycontin from our formulary and replaced it with opioids that have stronger abuse-deterrent technology.

We estimate up to 175 injured workers a month will be eligible for a drug disposal bag. That’s not a huge number — we covered 164,761 opioid prescriptions in calendar year 2018 — but if it saves one life, it’s worth doing. As Governor DeWine has often said, the opioid and substance-use epidemic is a complicated public health issue. There is no easy solution, and it requires all of us, from state leaders to you and our next-door neighbors, to fight this battle.

In addition, we are a leader in our industry. Other state agencies and workers’ comp systems across America look to us for guidance on a host of issues, from building strong pharmacy and safety programs to fighting fraud. Let’s hope they follow our lead on this effort, too.

For more information about drug disposal bags, email or call BWC’s Pharmacy Department at 877-543-6446,  8 a.m. – 4:45 p.m., EST, Monday – Friday.

Reversing the opioid epidemic

Pain expert argues for systematic effort

By Tony Gottschlich, BWC Public Information Officer, Media Relations

The opioid crisis afflicting the nation is “the worst man-made epidemic in modern medical history” and the United States needs a systematic effort to reverse it, a leading pain and workers’ compensation expert told a group of Ohio employers and workers gathered for the Ohio Safety Congress & Expo Wednesday.

“At least 7-10 million patients in the U.S. who are on chronic opioids are highly dependent or addicted,” said Gary Franklin, MD, MPH, a neurologist and medical director of the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. “They’re in deep trouble and there’s no systematic effort out there to help them. Most go to their primary care doctors, who have no idea what to do, and a lot of these patients are getting abandoned. That’s the worst thing that can happen.”

Franklin’s lecture, entitled, “Reversing the Opioid Epidemic and Improving Pain Care,” was one of dozens offered on the opening day for Safety Congress, the annual safety and occupational health event sponsored by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) and held at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

Franklin said if this country is serious about reversing the opioid epidemic, it needs to do three things:

  • Prevent the next wave of opioid users. Research shows most opioids don’t help most chronic pain patients. Many get worse and fewer return to work. Prescribe non-opioid analgesics as a first-line treatment.
  • Systematically address and treat the millions or patients already on long-term opioids.
  • Deliver community based, multimodal care for pain. There is strong evidence supporting cognitive behavioral therapy and psychologically informed physical therapy, he said.

And perhaps the most obvious of all: “If your patients aren’t improving, don’t give them more opioids.”

“This is a mess, and it’s our job as public servants to figure out how to help these patients,” said Franklin, who is also a research professor at the University of Washington.

While giving an overall bleak assessment of the opioid crisis and its challenges, Franklin paused in his lecture to compliment the Buckeye state, pointing to Gov. Mike DeWine’s RecoveryOhio plan and BWC’s Substance Use Recovery and Workplace Safety Program.

He ended his lecture with another positive note. “I do think we’re all in this together and we can figure it out.”

Franklin was joined in the lecture by Dr. Terry Welsh, BWC’s chief medical officer, who spoke about the substance use recovery program and other BWC efforts to mitigate the impact of the opioid crisis on the workforce. Also speaking was Tom Wickizer, a professor of public health at The Ohio State University. Wickizer made a case for an occupational health care model that can prevent long-term and/or permanent disability.