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Excessive use of opioids by injured workers a national problem

When a work accident leaves a North Carolina worker with an injury that makes it impossible to do one's job, it is highly likely that the injured worker will seek workers' compensation benefits. Among other things, the benefits serve to alleviate the financial burden that accumulates as that person heals. Workers who receive workers' compensation benefits are unable to immediately return to their job after suffering an injury related to their job are often in a lot of pain.

Managing that pain is a part of a worker's recovery. Accordingly, opioids are often prescribed to help in the matter. While when used correctly the use of these drugs can be a good thing, because of their addictive nature, when used incorrectly, they can cause even bigger problems for the injured worker. These problems include a longer period of recovery and in some cases even a dependence on the drugs.

There are a variety of situations in which opioids could be prescribed to a patient. Generally they are provided to injured workers in the following situations:

  • For general pain control
  • After a surgical procedure
  • To deal with chronic pain after a catastrophic injury

In addition to possibly leading to an addiction, the use of opiates affects workers compensation plans financially as well. Overuse has been tied to longer periods of disability which results in an increase in medical costs. The issue is one that affects the state of North Carolina where long-term use of opioids by workers who are injured on the job is one of the highest in the nation.

In an effort to try to get control of the problem opiates are causing in workers' compensation systems throughout the nation, many payers are seeking to establish other effective pain management techniques. In addition, some states are working to legislate the way in which the drugs are prescribed.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Opioid Epidemic Plagues Workers’ Comp," Denise Johnson and Don Jergler, May 17, 2013

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