As is true throughout the rest of the country, the state of Pennsylvania is struggling with epidemic abuse of opiate drugs. Now the Pennsylvania House of Representatives is considering legislation that would significantly scale back the use of these drugs by requiring authorization for certain medications.
Much of the basis for the proposed changes is a study prepared by the Independent Workers’ Compensation Research Institute which showed that workers’ comp beneficiaries are prescribed opiate drugs at a higher rate than is true of non-workers’ comp patients.
Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs, a physician with a workers’ compensation physician group, gave testimony to the lawmakers at a recent hearing, and said that though he was initially skeptical of prescribing guidelines, he now considers them extremely helpful. “I’m getting better results,” he said. “I’m not having the problems of people addicted to opioids because I’m just not prescribing them that much. My patients don’t need them.”
Though the proposed legislation would have an impact on all medications, the greatest impact would likely be on opioids. Similar steps have been taken in Pennsylvania in insurance systems outside of the workers’ compensation system with great success. The General Assembly passed laws that allow disciplinary actions against physicians prescribing the drugs to excess, and physicians now need to check patient drug history on an online database before writing new prescriptions for the highly addictive medications.
The issue of physicians writing prescriptions for opioids for those suffering from chronic pain has been addressed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and workers’ compensation advocates are indicating that opioid use is the single biggest issue that they face throughout the country. So many workers’ comp claims relate to severe musculoskeletal injuries that leave workers with long-lasting pain that lasts three months of more that it frequently results in reliance on these addictive drugs. One solution that has been suggested to workers’ compensation physicians is the introduction of physical therapy to increase mobility and facilitate healing. By taking a functional recovery rather than a medicinal approach, physicians are better able to serve those who have been injured on the job while at the same time protecting them from physical dependence on medications.
Workers’ compensation benefits are designed to provide for the needs of workers who have been hurt on the job, so it is important that those benefits do not lead workers down a path of addiction. If you have been injured on the job and need information about the benefits that are available to you, contact our office to learn how we can help.