Painkillers May Increase Cost of Work Injuries

Insurance companies that reimburse employees for workplace injuries, pay billions of dollars every year, mainly for major accidents. Recently, another cost has emerged: payments to workers with routine injuries, treated with strong painkillers.

Insurance companies pay about $1.4 billion per year for opioids, or narcotic painkillers. However, studies have now shown that when these medications are prescribed too early, or for too long a period, the worker’s return to employment may be unnecessarily delayed.

According to a 2008 study by the California Workers Compensation Institute, workers who were prescribed large doses of painkillers after an injury, such as back strain, stayed off work much longer than those workers with similar ailments who received lower doses.

Accident Fund Holdings, an insurance company, conducted an analysis in 2010, which found that when a painkiller such as OxyContin is used, the cost of a work injury can rise by as much as nine times. Greater use of opioids are associated with delayed recovery from injuries suffered in the workplace, according to Alex Swedlow of the California Workers Compensation Institute.

Many experts say that treating workplace injuries with narcotics is part of a larger problem involving the overuse of drugs like Percocet, OxyContin and Duragesic. In the workplace, such drugs are often prescribed for common ailments such as back pain.

High doses of opioids come with side effects, such as lethargy and drowsiness, and they can lead to addiction. There is also the danger of a fatal overdose. While insurers decry the high cost of prescription painkillers, injured workers are often just seeking relief from their occupational injuries, and advocates for workers emphasize that decisions regarding medical care should be made by doctors, not insurance companies.

Robert Briskman is a Chicago workers compensation attorney and Chicago workers compensation lawyer with Briskman Briskman & Greenberg. To learn more call 1.877.595.4878 or visit

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