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Opioid use by injured workers reaching 'epidemic' proportions

Pennsylvania residents may be aware of the growing, national problem of opioid abuse. It has attracted the attention of the CDC. According to the CDC, There are nearly 40,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. annually. Statistics show that more than half of these involve prescription drugs. Opioid-related deaths currently exceed those involving heroin and cocaine combined.

Injured workers make up a significant portion of those who are prescribed opioids for pain management. Back injuries are among the most commonplace work-related injuries. Opioids are often prescribed for the pain management of back injuries.

Several workers' compensation stakeholders are increasing their efforts to combat the abuse of pain relieving narcotics by injured workers. Most attempts to curb the over utilization of prescription drugs are happening at the state level. For example, Georgia recently passed a "pill mill" bill that would require the licensing and regulation of pain management clinics. In addition, the bill requires that such clinics be doctor-owned. Other states - Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana - have all passed similar legislation. Texas has taken a more aggressive approach by implementing a closed formulary on prescription drugs within the workers' compensation system.

Medication costs make up a large percentage of the overall cost of workers' compensation. They currently make up 60 percent of costs and are estimated to make up 70 percent of costs by 2020. In addition to the cost factor, opioid use has been linked to poorer medical outcomes. Patients who are prescribed opioids for prolonged periods of time are disabled longer and have higher medical expenses.

Workers' compensation laws and regulations change frequently and are different for each state. People who have been injured at work might have concerns and questions about Pennsylvania workers' compensation laws. A workers' compensation lawyer may be able to clarify the law and answer any other related questions.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Opioid Epidemic Plagues Workers' Comp", Denise Johnson and Don Jergler , May 17, 2013

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