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Painkillers Are Often Overused to Treat Workplace Injuries

When someone gets hurt on the job, doctors are sometimes too quick to prescribe powerful drugs to treat the symptoms of those injuries. These strong painkillers, which include drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet and Duragesic, may hurt more than help the injured worker.

Injured workers that require such medications are often those in extreme pain from major accidents. Heavy machinery or dangerous conditions can lead to crushed body parts or back injuries that hinder an employee's ability to do simple everyday tasks. In the past, prescribed pain medications have helped these workers cope. However, recent statistics question whether this is the best solution.

Accident Fund Holdings, an insurance company found in 18 states, recently discovered that costs of medical care become significantly higher when a drug such as OxyContin is used as treatment. These medications, when prescribed for too long or too early in an injury, have a likelihood of increasing the amount of time an employee must take off for an injury. It is also more likely that medical bills will be higher than if painkillers were not used.

The cost of prescribing these medications is rather startling. A normal workplace injury totals around $13,000. When a short-acting painkiller enters the picture, that number jumps to $39,000. When an even stronger and longer duration drug is prescribed, the number is again tripled to $117,000.

Even more serious, however, is the impact on the injured worker from such powerful painkillers. These include:

  • Drowsiness and lethargy
  • Addiction
  • Fatal overdose Other serious side effects

With all of these costs and risks on the table, injured workers should take caution. Having good communications with one's doctor and asking a lot of questions can lead to safer and speedier recovery.

Source: Charlotte Observer, "In workplace injuries, painkillers add costs, delays in returning to work", Barry Meier, June 04, 2012

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