Employer Drug Classes Could Keep You on the Job

by Mike Miller June 21, 2012

Prescription pain medication abuse is skyrocketing across the country. It is costing people their jobs and their lives. It is also seriously hurting America’s productivity.

All you have to do is look to workplace insurers. Many people have a negative impression of insurers and quite frankly, they have themselves to blame for the current problem.

Workplace insurers are accustomed to making billions of dollars in payments each year, with the biggest sums going to employees hurt in major accidents, like those mangled by machines or crushed in building collapses. This according to the New York Times.

Now they are dealing with another big and fast-growing cost — payouts to workers with routine injuries who have been treated with strong painkillers, including many who do not return to work for months, if ever.

Workplace insurers spend about $1.4 billion annually on narcotic painkillers. Prescribing medications certainly is not the long-term answer. Meds, 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.

Between 2001 and 2008, narcotics prescriptions as a share of all drugs used to treat workplace injuries jumped 63 percent.

Stronger Prescriptions Cost More in Long Run

Accident Fund Holdings examined its claims and found that the cost of a typical workplace injury — the sum of an employee’s medical expenses and lost wage payments — was about $13,000. But when a worker was prescribed a short-acting painkiller like Percocet, that cost tripled to $39,000 and tripled again to $117,000 when a stronger longer-acting opioid like OxyContin was prescribed.

This is where we see that insurers are experiencing the consequences of their own policies. During the last decade, they readily reimbursed doctors for prescribing painkillers while eliminating payments for treatments that did not rely on drugs, like therapy.

Insurance companies also should be looking to putting more money into therapy and drug education classes.

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