Dec 2020

Long-term opioid use among injured workers

It’s a public health crisis

It may not be getting the same attention in 2020 thanks to the much more prominent public health crisis, but we’re still suffering from an opioid crisis, too. A recent study published in Safety+Health Magazine found a strong link between workers’ compensation claims and long-term opioid use.

The study, which examined data among workers with significant injuries in 33 states, found that workers who were prescribed a 15- to 30-day supply of opioids within 90 days of their injuries were at substantially elevated risk of longer-term opioid dispensing. That risk increased even further among workers who were prescribed a dose of over 500 milligrams.

Other risk factors included having a higher number of opioid prescriptions early in a claim, simultaneously receiving opioids and other nervous system depressants, and length of time between the injury and the initial opioid prescriptions. The study found that workers aged 35-64 were at elevated risk.

Safe pain management is often a struggle in workers’ comp claims

Managing pain is an important part of treating many types of work injuries, both short-term and long-term. Some work injuries, such as burns and broken bones, are extremely painful for a relatively short period of time. Others, like back and knee injuries, may cause chronic pain that the worker has to live with for the rest of their life.

Unfortunately, when it comes to pain medication, it’s all too often that injured workers get the short end of the stick. They may get less time with their doctors than other patients, which means they’re less informed about their different treatment options. More importantly, there is always pressure from the insurance company to prescribe the least expensive medication possible, and opioids are often the cheapest pain medications.

Pursuing alternatives to opioids takes time and effort

While opioids are necessary to manage pain in some circumstances, it’s obvious that alternatives need to be explored to help injured workers get the best possible quality of life (and be able to return to work). For instance, physical or occupational therapy may work to mitigate pain before opioids are prescribed. Some injured workers even find relief in acupuncture.

The experience of pain is unique to the individual injured worker. Everyone has a different level of tolerance for pain. Rather than prescribing an addictive medication as one-size-fits-all treatment, doctors need to put in the time to find the safest way to effectively manage pain for each injured worker—and workers’ comp insurance companies need to foot the bill for safe and effective treatment.

The risk of opioid addiction speaks to the larger need for injured workers to stay involved in their medical care and get effective advocacy for their legal rights. If you’ve been injured on the job in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, get an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer on your side to fight for the care and compensation you need. Contact the Law Offices of Deborah G. Kohl for a free consultation.

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