Painkiller problem hits hard in workers comp

The dramatic increase in overdose deaths and emergency department visits related to the class of narcotic painkillers known as opioids has drawn national attention to the rise in abuse of the drugs as well as inappropriate prescribing by physicians.

But the problem, dubbed an “epidemic” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Tom Frieden, is not limited to teens looking for a cheap high by raiding their parents’ medicine cabinets. Rather, it is being felt in a big way by employers. Companies are seeing their workers compensation costs rise by $1.4 billion annually as a result of injured workers taking prescription opioids such as OxyContin and subsequently experiencing a pronounced delay in return to work.

Experts say that a coordinated effort among all the stakeholders—politicians, regulators, medical authorities and the general public—is needed to comprehensively address the opioid epidemic. But they note that there are some steps that employers and their insurers can take to discourage improper prescribing, help injured workers return to work more quickly and help rein in workers compensation costs.

My latest appears in the January issue of Rough Notes, a final holdover from my freelancing interregnum. Read the whole shebang.