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Painkillers May Delay a Return to Work

June 11, 2012

At MCN talk we frequently blog about the opioid problem nationwide. Here’s a good reason why we do so: as per this article in The New York Times, the way that certain types of pain killers such as Oxycontin are prescribed for specific injury types may actually delay a return to work.

It’s important to establish that there is little question that strong pain medications can help some patients return to work and remain productive.  The ability to return to work is a major event in a person’s life—this is not about a perception of “slacking off” (i.e. the injured party is just malingering and really ought not to be a drain on someone else’s dime) but rather it’s a sign of improved health and functionality. Returning to work is an important step for a person in returning to their pre-injury life. Pain medication is meant to aid in reaching that step in the recovery process, not hinder it. So what’s going on?

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. Read more…

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