How Opioids are Affecting Workers’ Comp in PA

Research has shown that injured workers who are administered higher doses of opioids for pain relief end up spending more time off work following their injury than those who are prescribed low-dose or non-opioid painkillers. 

The National Safety Council has cited a study which revealed that administering opioids for one week soon after a worker’s injury will double the risk of the worker not returning to the workplace even one year after the injury. 

Increased Workers’ Comp Claim Costs

The challenge with opioid use is that the patient can quickly develop a tolerance to it. In other words, an injured worker using opioids is more likely to require incrementally higher doses of the drug to maintain the same effect. As the worker uses more of the opioid, it increases sedation and reduces their ability to work. This can result in delayed return to the workplace, which in turn means higher lost wages for the injured worker. 

According to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University published in the Claims Magazine, long-acting opioids were associated with a nine-fold jump in the average workers’ comp claim costs. These additional costs could also include treatment for opioid dependency and addiction.

Workplace Safety Compromised with Opioid Use

The use of opioids among PA workers could also lead to an increased workplace safety risk. Opioid use can make a worker less alert and slow down their reaction time. 

Therefore, workers using opioids for pain management in PA could pose an injury risk to themselves as well as other workers, particularly if their work involves driving, working at heights, or operating machinery. 

Considering all these factors, insurance companies and employers may try to deny or reduce a worker’s injury claim if the use of opioids is involved. 

In order to protect their rights, injured workers need to have the best legal representation from a skilled PA workers’ comp attorney who has experience in dealing with such cases. 

Safe Prescribing of Opioids – Guidelines for Workers’ Comp in PA

The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs along with the Department of Health in PA has set up a task force which has developed guidelines on the safe and effective use of opioids with regard to workers’ compensation for injuries on the job. 

The guidelines include: 

  • The use of opioids should be restricted to the shortest possible duration and the lowest effective dose, as both duration of treatment and dosage are associated with a higher risk of harm. The initial opioid prescription should not exceed a one-week supply. 
  • Opioids for an injured worker should only be prescribed after the provider completes the patient assessment and a query of the PDMP (Prescription Drug Monitoring Program).
  • Only a doctor with the necessary clinical expertise should provide chronic opioid therapy. Referral to a specialist should be considered depending on the patient’s clinical needs. 

Before going ahead with opioid therapy, providers are also advised to conduct a comprehensive review of the injured worker’s pain experience, a physical exam, a diagnosis, and a detailed treatment plan. 

It is best for an injured worker to have a dedicated workers’ comp lawyer on their side to fight for their claim for compensation.