Opioids in the workplace: An issue to track in 2014

Chances are that if one of your employees suffered back pain from a workplace injury, he or she was treated with a prescription painkiller, most of which are opioids. A May 2013 report in Insurance Journal points out that about 42 percent of workers with back injuries were prescribed opioids in the first year after injury – most of the time after the first medical visit.

A full year after injury and 16 percent of those workers were still taking prescription painkillers, a disastrous trend, says a growing chorus of experts and workers compensation administrators. Not only does the uptick in opioid use often lead to addiction and additional medical issues, but to costly medical expenses.

The Insurance Journal report points to a study of more than 12,000 workers’ comp claims processed by a Michigan-based insurer. That report found that when certain opioid painkillers were prescribed, workers compensation claims were nearly four times as likely to exceed $100,000 or more compared with claims without such prescriptions.

Medical costs currently account for an estimated 60 percent of workers’ comp claim costs and are expected to increase to about 70 percent by 2020.

Rising costs associated with long-term prescription opioid use is sometimes caused by the various side effects of the drugs themselves, leading to a daily cocktail of various drugs meant to counterbalance each other. When that happens, employees can experience a decline in quality of life and function that doesn’t get better, even over time.

Avoiding injuries in the workplace is one of first steps towards prevention of opioid usage and potential abuse as well as medical marijuana misuse. Encourage workers to observe all safety protocols of the workplace to avoid accidents and injuries.

You may also be interested in tips on how to reduce risk around opioid drug use in the workplace.