Long-term use of opium-derived narcotics in workers' compensation cases was the subject of a recent study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute. In their study they looked over nearly 300,000 claims from injuries sustained from Oct. 1, 2006 to Sept. 30, 2009. According to the study, few of the physicians overseeing these workers' compensation patients were following the "recommended treatment guidelines to prevent opioid misuse." The study found that nearly one in 12 of the workers' comp patients who started using narcotics due to injury were still on them three to six months later.
Pennsylvania was one of 21 states involved in the study, with the most troubling data coming out of Louisiana and New York, where workers were more likely to received opioids on a long-term basis than in other states. In 10 of the states, the percentage of claims involving long-term narcotics use increased by 1 to 3 percentage points between the periods of 2007-2009 and 2009-2011.
These numbers are highly troubling due to the serious nature of narcotic painkiller addiction. It can rip lives and families apart, and patients trust in their physicians to ensure that they are treated in such a way that their lives and health improve, not deteriorate. Narcotic dependence can also cause additional injuries after returning to work due to the impaired abilities associated with opioids.
This study found that often, physicians were not adequately screening patients for drugs, nor were they appropriately following up with the narcotic prescriptions. Patients put their trust in their physicians that they will be able to get well and return to work, not to end up with an additional medical issue.
Source: Risk and Insurance, "Workers' comp physicians not following guidelines for opioid use, study shows," Oct. 25, 2012