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Are painkillers overused to treat workplace injuries?

Injured Ohio workers may be affected by the nationwide practice of prescribing strong narcotic painkillers or opioids like OxyContin, Percocet and Duragesic to treat the pain from injuries like back strains. Many workers' compensation professionals now believe that the use of these drugs to treat common workplace injuries is sometimes excessive, and in some cases may have a detrimental impact on the ability of injured workers to recover and return to work.

According to insurance industry data, between 2001 and 2008 narcotics prescribed for the treatment of workplace injuries jumped by 63 percent in relation to all other drugs. Injured workers may be especially susceptible to dangerous side effects of these drugs like drowsiness and lethargy. Often depressed and despondent due to an inability to work, the instances of addiction and fatal overdoses related to these drugs are increasing among vulnerable populations of injured workers.

Accident Fund Holdings, an insurer, examined its claims and found that the average cost of a claim was six times greater when a strong acting opioid like OxyContin was prescribed. It found that where an average claim for a workplace injury costs around $13,000, this increased to $117,000 when narcotic drugs were prescribed. Workplace insurers spend an estimated $1.4 billion a year on narcotic painkillers or opioids.

But while costs are soaring, where is this money going? Sometimes, these treatments do indeed benefit the injured worker, but in other cases these may not be the best prescriptions for workers. Instead, pharmaceutical companies may be the primary beneficiaries of the over-prescription of some drugs.

As we discussed several months ago in our Columbus Workers' Compensation Law Blog, the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation has changed its pharmacy rules in order to improve the treatment of injured workers and quicken their return to work.

While there may be certain types of injuries that warrant the prescription of these drugs, it is important that injured workers are provided with treatment that best suits their needs.

Source: The Charlotte Observer, "In workplace injuries, painkillers add costs, delays in returning to work," Barry Meier, June 4, 2012

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