Proper medications are an important part of the treatment for harm suffered in workplace accidents. But insurers are reporting that prescriptions of heavy-duty painkillers for workplace injuries experienced a marked leap during the period from 2001 to 2008. The use of those drugs soared 63 percent during that time, and some contend that they are being used too much.
Powerful drugs such as OxyContin and Percocet are opioids, which can carry a risk of addiction. They can also make patients sleepy and sluggish. Studies that followed injured workers suggest that these medications may be delaying rather than accelerating recovery from accidents sustained on the job.
The California Workers Compensation Institute found that, in data collected from 2008, workers who took smaller levels of opioid painkillers made it back to work three times faster than those who had higher doses. The workers with higher doses did not have more significant injuries: The study controlled for the severity of the workplace injury, only comparing employees who suffered similar harm.
The medications are also quite expensive. One insurer stated when an injured worker was prescribed OxyContin, it paid out an average of $104,000 more to cover the drug's cost than if the worker was not given the narcotic. In total, insurers pay out $1.4 billion each year to address the costs of prescribed painkillers.
Some workplace injuries can be severe, and pain management is essential to a complete recovery. But some are questioning the propriety of using powerful drugs to treat lesser injuries, such a back strains. Insurance companies would stand to benefit by a reduction in the use of strong painkillers, but there was not an indication in the article that they would try to challenge such prescriptions in workers' compensation claims.
Source: The Charlotte Observer, "In workplace injuries, painkillers add costs, delays in returning to work," Barry Meier, June 4, 2012.