By: Tyler Jones, Esq.
It is rare to read a good report regarding the opioid crisis, but according to two recent studies, Georgia is included in a list of states that are effectively managing opioids by decreasing the number of opioids prescribed in workers’ compensation cases. According to a study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute, between 2012 and 2014, there were statistically significant decreases in the amount of opioids prescribed in workers’ compensation claims in 25 states, including Georgia. The study correlates these decreases with various state reforms aimed at tackling opioid abuse, bolstering monitoring programs, and implementing treatment guidelines. A total of 13 states, including Georgia, have now implemented comprehensive programs to eliminate opioid overdoses and generally protect their residents. These programs involve implementing prescribing guidelines, integrating drug monitoring programs into clinical settings, improving data collection and sharing, and increasing the availability of opioid use treatment facilities. Some of the specific measures Georgia has in place to curb over-prescribing of pain medications include Georgia Composite Medical Board Rule 360-3-06, which mandates random drug testing in certain cases involving the prescription of narcotic pain medication for more than 90 days, and the Georgia Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a database allowing physicians in workers’ compensation claims to immediately access the controlled substance prescribing information for particular claimants.
It is a fact that some injured workers will be prescribed opioid pain medications and in some situations it can be appropriate so long as they are prescribed responsibly and proportionally in both amount and duration. Unfortunately, this is often not how things play out. According the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, more than a one week supply of two or more opioid prescriptions after an injury doubles a worker’s risk of disability one year after the date of injury. Once an injured employee has been taking opioid medications for three months they may already be dependent and would have developed a major tolerance which could lock them into a cycle that is difficult to leave. In addition, opioid prescriptions increase the medical costs on claims significantly. According to a 2012 study by The Hopkins-Accident Research Fund, an injured employee who is prescribed as little as one opioid will generate claim costs about three times as much as similar claims without the presence of opioids. The steps Georgia is taking should continue to reduce opioid prescription abuse.