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Workers injured on the job may have to fight for painkillers

With insurance costs on the rise and abuse of prescription painkillers becoming a problem throughout the nation, changes in workers' compensation may be on the horizon. Colorado workers who find themselves seriously injured on the job may soon have an additional battle to fight. Legislators are considering new pain treatment guidelines that could limit the amount of pain medication that can be prescribed to an individual, as well as the duration of the treatment period.

Many believe that changes in pain management are positive for all involved. Companies who insure workers pay an estimated $1.4 billion per year to provide narcotic or opioid painkillers. Furthermore, use of these drugs does not seem to help injured workers to recover. One study found that workers with back injuries who used high doses of opioid painkillers were out of work approximately three times longer than workers with similar injuries who took lower doses of the same medications.

Yet another problem with opioid painkillers like OxyContin and Percocet is the high risk of addiction and the high rates of the drugs being sold on the street. Taxpayers pay the price as well when they underwrite the insurance coverage for public employees. Insurers assert that while the historical cause of rising coverage costs has been litigation over the extent of injuries sustained while on the job, the current driver of cost hikes is the expense of prescribing opioid painkillers.

What does this mean for the average worker in Colorado who is injured on the job? The end result is likely to be changes in treatment plans that are meant to lower the prescription rate of strong painkillers. This seems like a reasonable approach, given all of the reasons outlined above. However, if you should find yourself suffering from a serious injury and with a significant amount of pain, you may encounter problems getting coverage for painkillers that may be needed, simply because they fall within the new guidelines.

Source: The New York Times, "Painkillers Add Costs and Delays to Workplace Injuries," Barry Meier, June 2, 2012

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