The opioids epidemic, which President Trump declared a public health emergency in October 2017, has had a national impact on many people, businesses, and organizations, including the U.S. Postal Service.
We have conducted audits and investigative work around opioids in the mail over the past few years, and we’ve also looked at ways to reduce the vulnerabilities in the international mail system. Most recently, we turned our attention to the impact on employees of opioids prescriptions.
Our recent audit report looked at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) program, which is responsible for providing benefits to postal employees injured on the job, including medical treatment and prescription medication such as opioids. Nearly 3 percent of all postal employees (17,535) received opioid prescriptions through this program in 2018.
Our analysis of FECA data identified concerns with the amount of opioid prescriptions for Postal Service employees as compared with the rest of government and nationally. Although the cost of opioid prescriptions for Postal Service employees in the FECA population declined from 2016 to 2018, the rate of decline was substantially less than that for other federal agencies – only about 70 percent of the rate of decline for other federal agency employees.
Also, the decline in USPS employee FECA opioid prescriptions lagged behind the rest of the nation. Specifically, Postal employee opioid prescriptions dropped overall about 9 percent from 2013-2017, while national opioid prescriptions decreased 21 percent.
We also found the average number of prescriptions per Postal Service employee under FECA increased slightly while the Centers for Disease Control reported a slight nationwide decrease per patient.
We made a handful of recommendations, including that management develop a quarterly data analysis process to monitor opioid prescription data trends in the workers compensation program, develop a drug abuse and addiction educational program, and request that DOL reduce the amount of time an opioid prescription is allowed under the FECA program.