The Economics of Opioids in Workers’ Compensation

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Over the weekend, The New York Times shed light on one of the largest growing concerns in the Workers’ Compensation field–opioid costs.

It might not be news to some of you, but narcotic painkillers are in fact the most widely prescribed class of medications in the US, and prescriptions for the strongest class of these opioids, such as OxyContin, have increased nearly four times within the past decade.

Equally as concerning, not only does evidence show that they are being abused, these drugs have also been shown to be ineffective in treating long-term pain, which can lead to the risk of addiction and debilitating side effects. This widespread use and abuse has led to a new breed of businesses such as pill mills and enormous costs for insurers.

Taking into consideration expenses of treating a patient, though the short-term costs with opioids is far less expensive than treatment with extensive physical therapy and similar programs, the opioid route can potentially incur even more extraneous costs for all parties involved.

Check out these startling figures of the economics of opioids, which shows how California insurers spent $252 million in opioids in 2010, which was about 30% of all prescription drug costs. Additionally, the average WC claim cost without opioids is $13,000, whereas costs with a short-acting ones such as Percocet is $39,000; long-acting ones like OxyContin is $117,000.

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