Pennsylvania Opioid Epidemic

August 15, 2018

Pennsylvania has the third highest percentage of injured workers who become long-term opioid users in the United States. It also ranked fourth in the country for opioid overdose fatalities in 2017, the same year that 17,000 workers’ compensation claims were made in the state. A recent study from the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) found that workers who were prescribed long-term opioid prescriptions spent more time out of work and received more than triple the temporary disability than those who were not prescribed opioids.

At least 7,624 shots of the overdose-reversing drug, Naloxone, were administered and at least 1,083 infants were born addicted to opioids since January of this year. Northampton County reported 109 drug-related fatalities and Lehigh County reported 197, a significant increase since 2016.

New Prescribing Guidelines

To combat this problem, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf introduced prescribing guidelines, which are now posted on the Health Department’s website. The guidelines are there to help health care providers who treat workers with work-related injuries determine whether an opioid prescription is appropriate. The Wolf administration adopted guidelines for 10 medical specialties, including dental practice, obstetrics, and sports medicine.

The guidelines provide alternative recommendations to opioids, such as Tylenol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and non-opioid muscle relaxant drugs. The guidelines also recommend non-pharmaceutical options to treat pain, such as ice, physical therapy, and chiropractic care. Emergency room physicians should also be careful when prescribing opioids, limiting their prescription dose to only cover 72 hours. Doctors should also issue mental health examinations, urine, and other drug tests before prescribing opioids to those suffering from chronic pain.

Controversy Over Guidelines

Governor Wolf stated on social media that the prescribing guidelines will give health care providers the guidance they need to appropriately treat patients with work-related injuries. However, employers and lawmakers question the efficacy of the guidelines given, stating that they are merely recommendations that carry no legal weight. The president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry says that while the governor’s focus is on the right issue, he did not provide an effective solution because health providers face no legal consequences for not following the guidelines.

Critics of the new guidelines point to Senate Bill 936 as a lost opportunity. The bill would have created a state-sanctioned list of approved prescription drugs for injured workers and restricted the dosage, duration, and number of drugs that could be prescribed. Employers would have the power to deny workers’ access to certain medications until they received adequate proof of injury. However, the governor vetoed the bill, choosing instead to implement the new guidelines.

Others do not agree that the bill should have been passed, noting that it covered too many drugs. The Health Secretary says that the guidelines, unlike the wide-sweeping bill, strictly seek to address opioid dependency among injured workers. It remains to be seen whether the guidelines will reduce opioid prescriptions and addictions in Pennsylvania as intended.

Philadelphia Work Injury Lawyers at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Help Workers Obtain Compensation for Their Injuries

If you were injured at work, contact a Philadelphia work injury lawyer at Larry Pitt & Associates, P.C. Our experienced attorneys represent clients in Berks CountyBucks CountyChester CountyDelaware CountyMontgomery CountyPhiladelphia County, and throughout Pennsylvania. For a free consultation, call us at 888-PITT-LAW or complete our online contact form.

Our team also provides skilled representation to those residing in and around AbingtonAmblerArdmoreBala CynwydBensalemClifton HeightsCrum LynneDarbyDowningtownDoylestownDrexel HillEssingtonFolcroftGlenoldenHaverfordHavertownHolmesKutztownLansdowneMediaMerion StationMortonNarberthNorristownNorwoodPhiladelphiaProspect ParkQuakertownReadingRoxboroughSharon HillUpper DarbyWest Chester, and Wynnewood.