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Are doctors overprescribing opioids for those on workers' comp?

Boston media outlets have in recent years been reporting on the rise in prescription drug use and abuse.

Some observers are now saying part of the problem might stem from doctors who prescribe opioids to patients who are injured on the job and are receiving workers' compensation benefits.

The overprescription of the potent-pain killers is "a big problem, and it's a growing problem" says a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There are statistics to back his statement: of the more than 40,000 fatal drug overdoses every year in the United States, more than half involve prescription drugs. Prescription opioid fatalities outnumber overdose deaths caused by heroin and cocaine combined, the CDC says.

The epidemiologist says prescription drug abuse qualifies as an epidemic and that the problems it causes can potentially be most severe among injured workers. He noted that “the overdose rate is highest among people of working age, that is middle-age people.”

Why would prescription drug abuse be so dangerous for injured workers?

Some of the most common workplace injuries are to backs and necks. Those injuries often result in doctors prescribing painkilling opioids for both short-term and long-term relief.

Because many back injuries eventually result in surgery -- and opioid prescriptions -- the epidemiologist said back problems are now viewed as a red flag for potential opioid abuse.

It should be noted that most Massachusetts workers who are injured on the job can apply for and receive workers' comp benefits. Those who are denied benefits have the right to appeal with the help of an attorney.

Source: Source: Insurance Journal, "Opiod Epidemic Plagues Workers’ Comp," May 20, 2013

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