In early 2016, the United States Congress took up legislation to reign in the opioid epidemic across the country. The epidemic is the result of over prescription of pain killers by doctors, often as the result of injuries sustained at work. Unfortunately, over reliance on drug treatments for pain created dependency for patients, and contributed to the problem.
(Article continues below infographic.)
Behind The Numbers
The federal government estimates that approximately 2 million Americans have an addiction to opioid based painkillers. Constant use of the drugs to treat everything from minor injuries to post-surgery pains builds a tolerance in the patient's system that requires increasingly high doses to feel any reaction.
As patients increase their doses, they increase their risk of serious injury or death. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 38,000 deaths occur each year from overdoses, and almost 17,000 of those are directly related to opioids.
Though the drugs are heavily regulated by the FDA and considered Schedule I narcotics, the prevalence of opioids means those who are addicted have easy access to pills from friends and family when they need it.
The Role Of Workers Compensation
Algonquin worker comp lawyers point to the attitude of doctors and insurance companies as a reason for the addiction problem. Treating a workers compensation claim with drugs is much cheaper, in the short term, for employers, prompting them to recommend doctors and treatment plans that use medication as the first option for treatment.
In addition, a loophole in the Illinois workers compensation laws allows doctors to benefit financially from opioid prescriptions. Under Illinois law, a doctor can sell drugs directly to their patients, keeping the markup on the drug as a profit for their practice. Most opioids have margins that approach 300 percent, and the convenience of accepting pills from the office where the received treatment, leads workers to accept the prescription without question.
Experienced Algonquin worker comp lawyers understand the high cost that these prescriptions for pain medications are exacting on their clients, and the lawyers are working diligently to close the existing loopholes.
The Cost For Workers And Business
Over prescription of opioids from healthcare providers creates serious problems for the clients of Algonquin worker comp lawyers. For employees, the drugs:
- Create dependency--Patients can become dependent on the drugs before the first refill of their prescription. When treatment benefits wear out, patients must either pay hefty out of pocket fees for the drugs, seek them illegally, or turn to other opioids, like heroin.
- Brain and breathing problems--Researchers have shown clear links between opioids and slow breathing, and started to study the impact of opioids on the brain. The first studies already show that continued opioid use contributes to hypoxia, comas, and even brain damage.
- Undermine quality of life--Employees on opioids often suffer from sluggishness or exhaustion which make enjoying life more difficult.
- Increase time off of work--Workers on opioids are not allowed to operate heavy machinery or perform many tasks at work. The longer the patient takes the drugs, the longer he or she must stay off of work.
Employees are not the only ones to suffer ill-effects from opioid prescriptions; employers are beginning to take notice of the problem. Employers suffer from issues, such as:
- Increased workers compensation costs--Algonquin worker comp lawyers can often secure awards 4-8 times higher for injuries where opioids are prescribed than they can with other injuries.
- Lost productivity--Workers on opioids are much less productive and need more time off of work than their non-abusing counterparts.
- Ongoing safety issues--In a dangerous working environment, like a factory or a warehouse, workers on opioids represent considerable ongoing safety risks. Workers addicted to opioids are at higher risk for inattentiveness or fatigue on the job, leading to injuries to themselves or others.
- Hiring problems--Drug tests for heroin and other narcotics screen the body for the presence of opiates, the key component in opioid painkillers. All over the country, employers struggle to find enough qualified workers to pass a drug test because there are so many people on various types of painkillers.
What Can Be Done?
The solution to the opioid epidemic seems simple: stop prescribing painkillers for minor aches and pains. While this solution seems to solve the problem, Algonquin worker comp lawyers are quick to demonstrate that defining major and minor injuries is a near impossibility. Separating the doctor from the prescription process is a good first step, and one that Algonquin worker comp lawyers and the state legislature are working to implement, but that solution will take time to work itself through the legislative process.
For now, employers and employees must work together to devise treatment plans with doctors that use opioids and painkillers only a last resort.