With the Covid-19 pandemic still ongoing, there has been a surge in claims for opioids. Sedgwick’s senior medical officer tells Insurance Times why the situation has worsened and what the loss adjustor has been doing to tackle it

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the opioid crisis, with loss adjusting firm Sedgwick seeing more claims in this area.

This is according to Dr Teresa Bartlett, Sedgwick’s senior medical officer. She tells Insurance Times: “We have seen the pandemic fuelling people needing help as they are feeling so isolated. Often people feel guilty as they feel like they are the ones who gave [Covid-19] to someone else.

“There’s a large burden that goes with this virus; it’s just overwhelming for people.”

This is especially the case if someone is asymptomatic – where an individual tests positive but there are no visible signs of symptoms.

Opioids are a broad group of pain-relieving drugs that are highly addictive and dangerous. An overdose can cause slow breathing, a lowered heart rate and even result in death. 

”There’s a correlation because those that have been severely impacted by Covid-19 and then hospitalised; there’s some long-term consequences that we don’t yet understand,” Bartlett says.

”We know that people on breathing machines or ventilators are having what we call ’post-ICU syndrome’. Those people are having a lot of weakness and pain. I think this could lead to an increase in the use of opioids again,” she adds.  

But, as Covid-19 is a respiratory disease, taking opioids on top of this is highly dangerous.  

”Opioids were first developed for end of life care - they inhibit the respiratory system,” Bartlett warns. 

It follows the issue coming to light last December, when deaths from these addictive painkillers soared and London insurers were said to have forked out £38bn in claims as they provided cover for the pharmaceutical firms accused of fuelling the opioid crisis.

Mental health 

Social isolation has gone hand-in-hand with the coronavirus lockdown and quarantine - this has worsened the mental health of some people, with Sedgwick seeing a 1000% increase in online counselling, as well as the usage of outreach helplines such as suicide helplines.

In addition, the lockdown forced some individuals into situations where they were quarantining with family members or other people they do not get along with.

“If you already had the propensity for depression, anxiety and substance abuse, this has led to an increase in all of that,” Bartlett says.

Sedgwick notes that overdoses have increased in the UK - March saw an 18% increase, April saw a 29% rise, while May recorded a 42% uptick.

Since 2019, opioid overdoses have increased by 42% in comparison to last year, when some progress was made to tackle the opioid crisis thanks to testing, monitoring and having doctor-patient agreements in place.

This year’s pandemic, however, has hampered this progress due to social distancing measures.

She says: “[During] the Covid-19 crisis, the focus was turned towards just saving lives. People that might have been treated with an opioid suddenly cannot go out to the doctors. There were a lot of things put in place for patients’ convenience so that they did not have to go out so often.”

Bartlett gives the example of a patient being given a 90-day prescription instead of a fortnightly one, to prevent them from leaving their homes too frequently.

Bartlett also points out that alcohol consumption has increased during the pandemic.


Bartlett notes that there has been past research into whether cannabis could be helpful in solving opioid addictions, although there are many downsides to this too. 

Sedgwick has been actively trying to tackle the opioid crisis with various measures, such as working with its pharmacy benefit partners and educating doctors.

The loss adjuster also has various initiatives in place such as mindfulness, meditation and physical therapy, to help patients deal with addiction.

“This has helped with the litigation as doctors are now very aware that the drugs are unsafe and they are more cautious with prescribing. The problem is when they cannot get these drugs from a doctor, they may turn to another form of street drug and this can make it dangerous,” she says.

Although the opioid crisis does not impact Sedgwick directly, it impacts the loss adjuster’s clients.