In recent years, opioid painkillers have emerged as a major cost driver. The high costs impact employers, who endure increased worker’s compensation claims and decreased productivity. According to a NYTimes.com article citing a 2010 analysis by Accident Fund Holdings (a Workers Compensation Insurance TPA), “when medical care and disability payments are combined the cost of a workplace injury is nine times higher when a strong narcotic such as OxyContin is used than when a narcotic is not used.”
Narcotics prescriptions increased by 63 percent as a share of all drugs used to treat workplace injuries from 2001 to 2008. The claims cost, reported by Accident Fund Holdings, of a typical workplace injury (which includes the sum of an employee’s medical expenses and lost wage payments) was about $13,000, that cost tripled to $39,000 when a worker was prescribed a short-acting painkiller like Percocet, and when a stronger opioid like OxyContin was prescribed the cost tripled again to $117,000.
There is a correlation between the greater use of addictive opioids and delayed recovery from workplace injuries. A 2008 study performed by the California Workers Compensation Institute revealed that workers “who received high doses of opioid painkillers [i.e., OxyContin, Percocet and Duragesic] to treat injuries like back strain remained out of work three times longer than those with similar injuries who took lower doses”.
In an attempt to remedy the issue some states are adopting pain treatment guidelines for doctors who treat injured workers. One suggested method includes referring patients to a pain specialist when the painkiller doses exceed a set level.
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