A recent study by the California Workers Compensation Institute found that early, frequent, or excessive use of narcotic painkillers as treatment for workplace injuries tripled, and sometimes quadrupled, the cost of treatment as well as delayed return of the worker into the labor force.
“Workplace insurers spend an estimated $1.4 billion annually on narcotic painkillers, or opioids. But they are also finding that the medications, if used too early in treatment, too frequently or for too long, can drive up associated disability payouts and medical expenses by delaying an employee’s return to work.
Workers who received high doses of opioid painkillers to treat injuries like back strain stayed out of work three times longer than those with similar injuries who took lower doses, a 2008 study of claims by the California Workers Compensation Institute found. When medical care and disability payments are combined, the cost of a workplace injury is nine times higher when a strong narcotic like OxyContin is used than when a narcotic is not used, according to a 2010 analysis by Accident Fund Holdings, an insurer that operates in 18 states.
“What we see is an association between the greater use of opioids and delayed recovery from workplace injuries,” said Alex Swedlow, the head of research at the California Workers Compensation Institute.
The use of narcotics to treat occupational injuries is part of a broader problem involving what many experts say is the excessive use of drugs like OxyContin, Percocet and Duragesic. But workplace injuries are drawing particular interest because the drugs are widely prescribed to treat common problems like back pain, even though there is little evidence that they provide long-term benefits.” Charlotte Observer, 4 June 2012.
According to the report, treatment with painkillers jumped 63% from 2001 to 2008.