With wide availability, increased misuse, and with little or no focus on the issue by regulators, prescription drug abuse has quietly become America’s dirty little secret. And now, a new wrinkle – when prescription drugs are prescribed following a workplace injury, they may create a workers’ compensation problem for employers.
The National Safety Council (NSC) recently issued a report entitled, Prescription Pain Medications: A Fatal Cure for Injured Workers. The report focuses on opioid drugs (commonly known as painkillers) that are prescribed for injured employees/workers’ compensation benefit recipients. Recent statistics show that more than 25% of workers’ compensation drug costs are for opioid pain medications.
The NSC’s report identifies 15 court cases from 2009 through 2015, where an employer was sued because of the prescribed use of opioids to treat workplace injuries. The report concludes: “The widespread use of opioids in the general population, but more specifically among injured workers, puts more injured workers at risk for addiction and fatal overdose. Courts have ruled that in many circumstances addiction and death arising from opioids prescribed to injured workers is compensable.”
The report contains a number of excellent recommendations for employers to reduce risk and mitigate costs arising from opioid use in workers’ compensation claims. These include:
1. Requiring opioid prescribing guidelines;
2. Using caution for the use of methadone to treat chronic non-cancer pain;
3. Screening injured workers for depression, mental health conditions or history of substance abuse;
4. Requiring that all pharmaceuticals be purchased and managed by a pharmacy benefit manager;
5. Requiring providers to utilize prescription drug monitoring programs; and
6. Educating workers about hazards associated with using opioids, especially injured workers.