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Report: Opioid Prescriptions in GA Workers’ Comp Cases Down Almost 20 Percent

On Behalf of | Jun 30, 2016 | Georgia Workers' Compensation |

Opioid prescriptions in Georgia workers’ compensation cases are down nearly 20 percent, according to a study released recently by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute.

Study authors credit the reduction with changes made at the federal, state and organizational levels in recent years intended to combat opioid overuse, abuse and overdose among injured workers.

It’s been a tough balancing act because those injured in Atlanta work accidents are genuinely grappling with pain. But the question has been raised whether the commonly-prescribed opioids were the best way to deal with that in the vast majority of cases. In fact, workers prescribed opioids on the whole take longer to return to work. Further, because of the noted danger of these medications, workers who suffered an overdose or developed addictions often sought coverage for these secondary claims as well. 

Opioids are generally prescribed for use in short-term pain relief following an injury, surgery or during a disease. When it comes to chronic pain, unless the patient is terminal, long-term use of the drugs often isn’t effective because it increases a person’s sensitive to pain, which means they eventually require higher and higher doses of the drugs in order to be effective. When the drugs are taken in large doses, they can result in respiratory depression and even death.

From 2001 to 2012, prescriptions of opioids increased 33 percent to 241 million.

As The National Safety Council noted, a study by the Washington State Department of Labor revealed that when a worker is prescribed more than one week’s worth of opioids or more than one opioid soon after an injury, the worker’s risk of disability one year later almost doubles.

In addition to the risk of a worker becoming drug-dependent, there is a growing body of appellate court decisions that have held employers and insurers financially responsible for overdose deaths of injured workers. That means workers’ compensation death benefits have been paid to families of workers who died after overusing drugs following a work injury.

The recent study by the WCRI looked at opiods prescribed per claim over a 24-month time frame, between March 2012 and March 2014.

In most of the 25 states the researchers analyzed, opioid prescriptions in workers’ compensation claims fell by varying degrees. In Georgia, claims fell by 19 percent. In six other states – Maryland, Michigan, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Texas – opioid prescriptions dropped by more than 20 percent. Only in four states – Arizon, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin – did the number of opioid prescriptions to injured workers increase.

Some of the other key findings of the research:

Opioid use was most common with non-surgical claims that involved a week or more of lost time. About 80 percent of these workers received opioids.

The states that had the most opioid prescriptions during that time were Louisiana, New York and Pennsylvania. Use of both opioids and benzodiazepines (muscle relaxers) was noted between 30- and 45-percent of the time.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued an updated guideline for prescribing opioids for chronic pain in response to the abuse and overdose epidemic. These guidelines include more scrutiny on whether the drug should should be continued or prescribed in the first place and how to assess and address the harms of opioid use.

For information on Atlanta work injury compensation, contact J. Franklin Burns, P.C., at 1-404-920-4708 .