Opioids and Workers’ Compensation

Opioids are a class of medication that is commonly prescribed to treat pain. It is no secret that the rise of opioid addiction and abuse is a severe problem in the United States. In 2016, it was reported that drug overdose was the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with opioid abuse being the leading type of drug, and prescription opioids almost double that of heroin. With such a national crisis, the balance in opioid use and workers’ compensation claims is a delicate one.

Musculoskelatal injuries are quite common in work-related injuries, with a typical treatment course being plenty of rest coupled with a type of pain killer. Sometimes these injuries heal completely, but all too often, a worker may be left with a chronic pain condition. A chronic condition is one that lasts more than three months, or lasts after the tissue has finished healing. Long-term opioid use can result in addiction, and in May 2016, it became mandatory for drug manufacturers to include a warning with opioid prescriptions that these drugs carry a high risk of dependency. The CDC has also cautioned doctors against over-prescribing this type of drug.

Between 2012 and 2014, the rate of prescription of opioids in workers’ compensation decreased across 25 states, including California. This is mainly due to a set of new regulations and programs that were adopted with an aim to reduce opioid abuse. The new regulations resulted in a “noticeable decrease” in these states, with some states experiencing a drop between 20 and 31%. Another study indicated that the cost of opioid prescriptions to workers’ compensation claims during this time was decreasing at a rate of $450 per year.

To continue this trend, it may be best for employers to develop a culture of early intervention for certain types of repetitive or stress induced injuries. This would allow workers to report these injuries at a stage at which they can be addressed with rest or physical therapy instead of the prescribing of opioids.

New drugs are also being developed in response to the opioid abuse epidemic. Although still in the development stages, there are many targeted and specialized drugs that may help further reduce the prescription rate of opioids. The impact of the high cost of specialized or compounded drugs on the workers’ compensation system is yet to be seen.

If you have questions about your business and workers’ compensation, contact me today at (714) 516-8188. I am highly experienced in guiding my clients through this complicated area of law.

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