Workplace insurers are familiar with paying out billions of dollars each year to employees hurt in major accidents, such as being mangled by machines or building collapses. But now, the newest fast-growing cost has become payments to workers with routine injuries who have been treated with strong painkillers, such as opioids.
$1.4 billion is spent annually on narcotic painkillers by workplace insurers, but if these medications are administered too early in the treatment process, too often, or for too long of a period it can delay the employee’s return to work, which drives up related disability payouts and medical expenses. TheCalifornia Workers Compensation Institute found that workers who received high doses of opioid painkillers for injuries, such as a back strain, stayed out of work three times longer that those with similar injuries that took a lower dose medication.
According to Accident Fund Holdings analysis, when a strong narcotic is used, such as OxyContin, the cost of a workplace injury is nine times higher than when a narcotic is not used. The California Workers Compensation Institute also found that there is a direct correlation between the greater use of opioids and extended recovery time from injuries occurring in the workplace.
OxyContin, Percocet and Duragesic are widely prescribed to treat common problems, but there is little evidence that they provide long-term benefits. High doses of opioids cause drowsiness, lethargy, other serious side effects and may lead to addiction. According to insurance industry data, narcotics prescriptions used to treat workplace injuries increased sixty three percent between 2001 and 2008. In 2010 in California alone, workplace insurers spent $252 million on opioids.
States are struggling to find ways to decrease the trend of prescribing these medications for commonplace work-related injuries, and some have issued new guidelines regarding pain treatment. The Workers Compensation Research Institute found that Massachusetts appears to be one of the biggest prescribers of these drugs for workers’ injuries.
Insurers are suffering the consequences of their own policies now. Over the past ten years, insurers would gladly reimburse doctors for prescribing painkillers, but were reluctant to pay for treatments that did not rely on drugs, such as therapy.
Pulgini & Norton, LLP attorneys have handled workers’ compensation claims for over 25 years in and around Boston and its surrounding areas. If you or a family member has been injured at work and would like to seek legal assistance, please contact us at (781) 843-2200 or (888) 344-2046 or email us.
Painkillers hike workers’ compensation cost, insurers say: Injured who take opioids slower to return to work, The Boston Globe, June 3, 2012
Workers’ Comp Insurers Unhappy With Cost of Prescription Painkillers, Digital Journal, June16, 2012