We've previously looked at the effect of opioid use on injured workers to warn workers and employers alike of the dangers of these highly addictive painkillers. In fact, opioid addiction has reached epidemic levels across the U.S. in recent years, leading people who become addicted and no longer have access to prescription drugs to turn to heroin and other street drugs.
Recognition of the epidemic and media attention to the problem are slowly having a positive effect, as state agencies and doctors make an effort to find alternatives to opioid painkillers. However, some states have been more successful in these efforts than others.
A recent study conducted by the Workers Compensation Research Institute names Kansas as one of the five states most successful at reducing opioid prescriptions for injured workers. Missouri hasn't lowered its rate by much, but the needle is still moving down.
Why Are Opioid Painkillers So Dangerous for Workers?
Workplace accidents often result in painful injuries. It's the goal of workers’ compensation doctors to get you patched up and back to work as quickly as possible, because the longer you are away from work and the more extensive your treatments are, the more it will cost your employer.
One way to accomplish this when the injury involves debilitating pain is to prescribe a strong painkiller. Traditionally, opioids such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, Morphine, Codeine, Fentanyl, and Demoral have been prescribed to give patients relief from the pain and allow them to perform job duties once again.
However, these medications are also highly addictive, and long-term effects on the worker can be devastating. Studies determine that workers who are given more than a one-week prescription for opioid painkillers following a workplace injury are twice as likely to still be disabled one year later as those not given opioids. This is partly due to the risk of addiction and partly due to the fact the use of opioids often replaces healing treatments such as physical and occupational therapies that can return a worker to health.
How Kansas Has Reduced Opioid Use Among Workers
While Kansas was able to reduce their rate of workers’ comp opioid prescriptions by 2.2 percent between 2010 and 2015, Missouri only reduced their rate by .2 percent. However, Kansas started at the much higher rate of 5.6 percent, while Missouri started at an impressive 3.9 percent. Of the 26 states studied, Kansas now has the lowest level of opioid prescriptions and Missouri is third after New Jersey.
What steps did Kansas take to lower their rates? The study author cites the following:
- The Kansas Board of Healing Arts adopted a policy for determining whether the doctors it licenses are following safe controlled-substance prescribing guidelines.
- The Kansas Department of Labor adopted evidence-based medical treatment guidelines from the Work Loss Data Institute meant to get injured workers back on the job as quickly as possible.
- Kansas’ prescription drug monitoring program, K-TRACS, went online in 2011, and every year more doctors and pharmacists have been using it to see whether their patients might be getting pain medications from multiple sources.
These educational and tracking initiatives should continue to bring down the rate of opioid prescription for injured workers as more practitioners participate and as employers realize that, while a strong painkiller may get a worker back on the job quickly, the long-term effects are more costly.
Even though Missouri has a low rate of opioid prescriptions being written under workers’ comp, the state is lacking some key protections for workers. For example, Missouri is the only state in the country that doesn't have a statewide database for tracking patient prescriptions. This makes it more difficult for doctors and pharmacists to determine if a patient is abusing prescription drugs.
When You Need a Workers’ Comp Attorney
When you are injured at work—no matter the cause—you're entitled to coverage for your medical costs under Kansas or Missouri workers’ compensation. If you're struggling to get the quality medical care you deserve you should speak with an experienced Kansas City workers' comp attorney. Please feel free to contact us online or call us directly at 816.471.5111 to schedule your free consultation.