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Overdose: over-prescribing of painkillers for injured workers

We've followed the issue of overuse of narcotic painkillers closely in this blog. Six weeks ago, in our April 12 post, we discussed how doctors and pharmaceutical companies are often too eager to push opioid drugs like Oxycontin, Vicodin or Percocet on people in need of pain relief. 

This includes many injured workers in the Baltimore area and throughout the nation who are dealing with back injuries and other workplace injuries.

Just how bad is the problem of addiction to prescription painkillers? It is big and growing - so much so that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has become concerned about it.

Overall, there are nearly 40,000 deaths from drug overdoses every year in the U.S. To be sure, many of these overdose deaths do not involve painkilling drugs. But according to CDC data, prescription drugs are involved in more than half of them.

Another indicator of serious the problem can be seen in comparing deaths from prescription drugs to deaths from other powerful drugs. Historically, heroin and cocaine have been viewed as among the most powerful, dangerous drugs. And yet deaths from prescription drug overdoses now exceed the combined number of deaths from heroin and cocaine combined.

Also of concern is the trend line. Deaths from prescription drug overdoses keep going up.

And research by the CDC is making it clear that one of the groups most at risk for such overdoes is injured workers. Workers with back injuries, for example, are often prescribed powerful painkillers while they are recovering from their injuries. It is all too easy to become addicted to them.

Source: "Opioid Epidemic Plagues Workers' Comp," Insurance Journal, Denise Johnson and Don Jergler, May 17, 2013

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