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Injured California workers may struggle to get pain medication

It's no secret that prescription painkillers are under fire from numerous directions. Once heavily prescribed, opioid painkillers are starting to become an increasingly difficult commodity to obtain by legal means.

Has the pendulum swung too far? Are injured workers in desperate need of pain relief going to be left without?

It's possible. As of now, the State Compensation Insurance Fund, which covers many workers' compensation policies for California's workforce, has slashed spending on opioids by an incredible 74 percent. That's a huge cut for injury victims to absorb rather suddenly.

Insurers say that the cuts are part of an overall push to limit the number of opioid prescriptions being given the injured. It's a somewhat reactionary measure that's been brought on by the increasing number of overdoses throughout the country. Prescription painkillers are being largely blamed for the mass of addictions and drug-related deaths in various states.

What do these deep cuts mean for injured workers? Now, instead of being given up to 90 days worth of pain medication during their initial recovery period, injured workers are given a maximum of 30 days on pain medication. After that, the mandatory review is triggered, no matter how serious the injury. Eventually, injured workers will be given a mere four days worth of pain medication before their case is sent for review.

Instead of medication, injured workers are being told to seek "alternatives," like physical therapy, biofeedback, behavioral therapy and acupuncture. They may even be sent for treatment for drug dependence if they continue to need the medication.

While this is supposed to protect workers, there is undeniably a financial element to the insurer's actions. Reviews slow down treatment and make it harder to pursue a claim. The new incentives also sharply limit the insurer's liability for any overdose deaths or addictions caused by opioids. Unfortunately, it's also taking medicine out of the hands of the doctors most directly involved with the injured and replacing it with "medicine by committee" instead.

Anyone struggling after a work injury should consider all their legal options -- especially if they're facing increasing difficulty getting reasonable treatment for their pain.

Source: sfchronicle.com, "California workers’ comp insurer cuts way back on opioid spending," Catherine Ho, June 08, 2018

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