by Bernard D. Nomberg, Partner, The Nomberg Law Firm
Recently, the workers’ compensation industry has seen a rise in the prescription of strong painkillers for routine injuries. The effect: injured employees who do not return to work for much longer than if they were not prescribed painkillers.
A 2008 study from the California Workers Compensation Institute concluded that workers who received high doses of opioid painkillers were out of work three times as long as those with similar injuries who took lower doses. As a result, the cost of injury when a strong narcotic, such as Oxycontin, is used is nine times higher. More specifically, the cost of a typical workplace injury: $13,000. The cost of a workplace injury when the employee has been prescribed a narcotic painkiller: $39,000.
As the prevalence of strong painkillers rises, so does the recovery time of a workplace injury. The rise of abuse of drugs such as Oxycontin and Percocet has also risen, leading many to believe the prescription of such drugs is part of a larger problem.
Presently, painkillers have been known to be prescribed for injuries such as back pain; however, there is little evidence to support that painkillers have long-term benefits to the user.
While the prescriptions have potential side effects of drowsiness and lethargy, the narcotics can also become a source of addiction.
Simply put: there is a national opioid overdose epidemic. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015. www.asam.org. See, Rudd RA, Seth P, David F, Scholl L. Increases in Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2010–2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:1445–1452.
You can bet that states are now becoming aware of the problem and mindful of the high cost for employers. This means many states have begun to issue pain treatment guidelines, including provisions on painkillers and their appropriateness. In addition, taxpayers are seeing a rise in their rates to offset painkiller costs for public employees. Just this week, the state of Ohio sued five drug companies for their role in fueling the opioid epidemic. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/05/31/530929307/ohio-sues-5-major-drug-companies-for-fueling-opioid-epidemic
Painkillers can be an effective option for workplace injuries, but it is important to acknowledge which injuries are appropriately treated by opioids and which are better treated otherwise. Alternative treatment forms should be considered; acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, yoga, therapy and marijuana are forms of alternative treatments for chronic pain.
Most importantly, be knowledgeable about the treatments that are being offered by your physician and weigh the costs and benefits associated with the suggested treatment before committing.
 California Workers Compensation Institute, Pain Management and the Use of Opioids in the Treatment of Back Conditions in the California Workers’ Compensation System (Aug. 2, 2008)
 2010 analysis by Accident Fund Holdings
Bernard D. Nomberg has practiced workers’ compensation law in Alabama for more than 20 years. Bernard has earned an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell’s peer-review rating. He has been selected a Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers Magazine as well as a Top Rated Attorney by B-Metro Magazine.