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Are workers' compensation claims pushing opioids?

There's been a couple of governmental studies on workers' compensation claims that cast a disturbing light on the use of opioids on the injured.

The information comes at a time when much of the nation is in the midst of an opioid crisis and begs the question about whether or not opioids and other heavy-duty drugs are being pushed on injured workers in lieu of care that would be more effective but also more expensive.

Here's some of the information uncovered from the two studies:

  • Almost 70 percent of "Set-Aside" agreements (which allocate money to cover future medical expenses related to an on-the-job injury) include money for decades-worth of opioids.
  • The amounts being covered in the agreements are often dangerously high and used along with other drugs that put permanently-injured workers at a high risk of drug-related injury, addiction or death.
  • Opioids are given to as many as one-third of California's injured workers during the period of acute pain (the first three months following the accident when healing has just begun).
  • By the time the 12th month following injuries rolled around, opioid prescriptions are suddenly being prescribed at higher rates -- especially to workers who have mental issues as part of their claims.
  • Opioids tend to be given to workers with mental issues as part of their claims long after the acute phase has passed.
  • The amount of opioid drugs given to workers with mental injury claims was larger than that given to workers with only physical injuries. In fact, patients with mental health issues were given dosages that were more than 50 percent higher than those without mental disorders.

It's hard not to look at the information and ask some hard questions.

Why are opioids, which are ideally used only during acute phases of care, being introduced late in the care of workers with mental issues? Is drugging the victim with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his or her injuries cheaper than therapy? Why are excessively high dosages being given Set-Asides, especially when combined with other drugs that could make the painkillers even more potent or dangerous? Were other treatments explored and dismissed or is it just cheaper to drug the pain away than provide surgery and months of physical therapy?

If you believe that your workers' compensation claim is being unfairly handled, an attorney's advice could be very beneficial.

Source: www.insurancejournal.com, "Study: Opioids in California Comp Claims Involving Mental Health," Oct. 30, 2017

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