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Better follow-up needed by doctors on painkiller prescriptions

Recovery from workplace injuries often involves the use of medication to manage the pain. This is as it should be, in a healthcare system that is equipped to minimize the suffering of injured workers.

Recently, however, there has been considerable concern about the overuse of powerful narcotic painkillers to treat people hurt on the job. The costs and consequences of such of these drugs are therefore an important issue in many Maryland workers' compensation cases.

A research group funded by workers' compensation insurers says in a report that doctors too often prescribe Oxycontin, Vicodin or other powerful painkillers fail without following up properly on how such drugs affect patients.

The report was issued by the Workers' Compensation Research Institute (WCRI). The report is called "Longer-Term Use of Opioids." The WCRI says it was based on a study of 300,000 work comp claims involving a total of 1.1 million prescriptions.

According to the report, one of every 12 injured workers to whom narcotic painkillers are prescribed is still using them three to six months later. In healthcare terms, the concern is about the potential for addiction in such cases - especially when doctors fail to follow guidelines for monitoring the effects of the drugs they prescribe.

This legitimate concern should not, however, prevent the use of painkillers in appropriate cases to help injured workers manage their pain. As much as the WCRI wants to keep costs down, it's also important that workers get good healthcare. For all their risks, painkillers can be a useful part of that care in appropriate cases.

Source: "Study: Physicians Not Following Guidelines on Painkiller Prescriptions," CBS Connecticut, 10-4-12

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