PA: Opioids for Workers Out on Comp
April 3, 2018
The Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) recently confirmed that the second-highest amount of opioid prescriptions prescribed to workers who are out on compensation claims is in the state of Pennsylvania. The rate of opioids prescribed in Pennsylvania per Workers’ Compensation claim is 87% higher than the median state, indicating that overprescribing these addictive and dangerous drugs is a major concern for individuals who get injured in the workplace.
Opioids are a class of semi-synthetic and fully synthetic drugs that include common prescription medications such as Vicodin, OxyContin, morphine, codeine – and the illegal street drug heroin (and others). While there are some general standards for how and when to prescribe opioids, there isn’t enough of a general consensus throughout the medical community to adequately inhibit the dangers that patients face.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the opioid epidemic has come about largely in part to a few primary factors. They are:
- Aggressive marketing tactics from pharmaceutical companies;
- Increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, and:
- Greater social acceptability for using the narcotic medications to treat various pain conditions
Opioids are abused more than any other kind of drug. Not only that, but they are highly addictive – especially if a person takes them for non-medical reasons. Even when a person takes opioids prescribed by a doctor, he or she can develop a tolerance to the drug. For some, developing a tolerance along with experiencing a decrease in pain management effectiveness is a major risk factor for becoming addicted.
Not only are opioids prescribed to injured workers more readily in Pennsylvania, but the WCRI also determined that doctors tend to prescribe a higher amount of the pills as well as in a higher dosage. According to the WCRI’s data, doctors prescribed an average of 258 pills per claim and the average dose was 10.2 milligrams. Prescribing as low as dose as possible as well as the smallest number of pills as possible are two helpful ways that doctors can combat the opioid crisis. This needs to be a priority because 115 Americans die every day in opioid-related drug overdoses.
Workers in the construction and general industries are prone to becoming ill or getting injured as a result of safety failures in the workplace. The nature of certain jobs can also be risky, like for people employed as highway workers or those in positions that require working at elevated heights. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), some of the most common (and preventable) workplace injuries are the result of:
- Machine entanglement injuries (can include amputations);
- Walking into, reaction and falling object injuries;
- Falling from heights (often resulting in traumatic brain injuries or TBIs, concussions and other head injuries);
- Slipping and tripping injuries;
- Overexertion injuries, and:
- Repetitive motion injuries
Depending on how severe a workplace injury is, someone may require extended time off, paid leave and medical treatments — and many injured workers even end up needing surgery to rectify their injury. Even though people with severe injuries may need strong medications to manage their pain, medical professionals should always be wary of prescribing opioids because of the high risk for both dependence and overdose that they carry.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created certain opioid prescribing guidelines for doctors, but the WCRI’s numbers suggest that this standard isn’t being followed closely enough. According to the CDC, medical professionals should only prescribe opioids to patients who are receiving end-of-life care or who are 18-years-old or above and experiencing chronic pain lasting longer than 3 months. The CDC also reports that primary care physicians complain about a lack of training on how to properly prescribe opioids, which only further contributes to the dangers that injured workers face when being prescribed medications.
Injured workers should be able to feel confident about receiving safe and effective medical care – and they shouldn’t have to worry about additional problems being created through negligent prescribing practices. Lots of people have been in situations where a doctor prescribed them a medication without properly explaining the dangers first – but medical professionals need to prioritize educating every patient on the benefits and potential for dangerous side effects of all medications prescribed.
The reality is that some severe workplace injuries necessitate medications with higher risks to properly manage pain and post-surgical care in patients. Even those individuals should be careful and have discussions with their care providers about how to safely taper off narcotic medications when the appropriate time comes. The data from the WCRI confirms that workers in Pennsylvania are even more likely to be overprescribed opioids after getting injured and filing workers’ compensation claims. If you’re someone who was injured at work and overprescribed opioids or other dangerous medications, please contact a representative at our firm who can help answer your questions.
Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Represent Victims of Medical Negligence
If you were prescribed opioids by a doctor and became ill or injured, please contact our Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Galfand Berger. With offices are located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.