Stricter Workers' Compensation Guidelines for Opioid Painkillers in CT

People recovering from work-related injuries have many challenges to overcome, including mental and emotional stress and physical pain. The Connecticut Workers' Compensation Commission (WCC) recently added a new challenge for injured employees by enacting stricter guidelines for the prescription and use of opioid painkillers. While the WCC is not trying to restrict how medical professionals help their patients manage pain after injuries, these guidelines may impact the treatment and compensation injured workers receive.

Opioid Use

Many experts claim that the excessive prescription of opioid drugs like OxyContin, Percocet and Duragesic, which are commonly used to treat workplace injuries such as back pain, can lead to long-term addiction and cause side effects that slow the healing process. There is minimal proof that use of these painkillers has lasting positive effects for patients, however. In addition, the rising practice of using opioids to manage pain caused by routine injuries can postpone an employee's return to work and increase workers' compensation expenses.

According to research findings reported by the California Workers' Compensation Institute in 2008, the workers' compensation leaves for injured workers taking higher doses of opioid painkillers were three times longer than those with comparable injuries taking lower doses. One workers' compensation insurer found that increased use of narcotics like OxyContin results in payouts that are nine times greater than when none are prescribed. This explains the nearly $1.4 billion workers' compensation carriers spend annually on opioid painkillers.

WCC Guidelines

The focus of the WCC's recent medical protocols for opioid management is to mandate more responsible prescribing of these powerful painkillers. The guidelines for doctors prescribing opioids include acting as a single prescriber, using one pharmacy, having the injured worker sign an opioid agreement and assessing pain and function regularly for improvement. If there are no signs of measured improvement, the patient exhibits negative side effects or there are symptoms of drug-seeking behaviors, weaning off opioids should occur right away.

While the medical protocol acknowledges that opioids may be necessary during the two weeks following an injury or surgical procedure, any continuation of pain management using opioids must be documented and indicate signs of improvement. Injured workers still being prescribed narcotics painkillers after four weeks should sign a narcotic agreement. Opioid prescriptions past the 12 weeks following an injury or surgery must document the medical necessity for opioid use and evaluation by a pain management specialist is recommended.

Victim Impact

For workplace injury victims, the WCC's opioid protocol may limit the number of weeks a doctor can prescribe these types of painkillers, as well as limit the dosage of opioid prescriptions. The new guidelines may also cause more hassles in proving these painkillers are medically needed and that they should be covered under workers' compensation insurance, even for extended durations. In extreme cases, the victim impact may be forced weaning off opioids and a return to work that is too soon, which could cause further injury.

If you were recently injured in the workplace and need help applying for workers' compensation, or are currently on workers' compensation but need an extension of coverage, contact a Connecticut workers' compensation specialist with experience navigating the state's workers' compensation laws and guidelines. You deserve the coverage you need to recover from or manage the pain of your workplace injury, so hire a lawyer who can help ensure this happens.