Monday, September 19, 2011

LA Times Underscores Rx Issue - WC Has Responsibility

The Los Angeles Times yesterday ran a headline story in their paper edition (yes, I still get the newspaper delivered to my door - but only the Sunday edition because my wife wants the coupons!) that underscores my recent, and perhaps pervasive, rants on the problems our industry has with prescription drugs.

"Drugs exceeded motor vehicle accidents as a cause of death in 2009, killing at least 37,485 people nationwide, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," The Times said.

Since vehicle accidents were the single largest cause of death and disability in workers' compensation, is treatment that workers' compensation patients receive via prescription medication now the leading cause of fatalities?

The Times article goes on: "While most major causes of preventable death are declining, drugs are an exception. The death toll has doubled in the last decade, now claiming a life every 14 minutes. By contrast, traffic accidents have been dropping for decades because of huge investments in auto safety."

So does this mean that despite continuing improvements in work place safety, such gains are being compromised by workers' prescription drug treatment?

According to the Times article, which should be no surprise to anyone following the controversy, prescription drugs now cause more deaths than heroine and cocaine combined.

"The rise in deaths corresponds with doctors prescribing more painkillers and anti-anxiety medications," the article states, providing some statistics to back up the claim, statistics that are all too familiar with the workers' compensation community that has been following the research by organizations such as CWCI, WCRI, the Texas DOI, and others.

Indeed, the death toll is highest among the age group in their 40s, which corresponds to the largest segment of workers' compensation claimants as bodies age and deteriorate and people seek redress from back pain and other life's maladies.

The article concludes that, unfortunately, society has not figured out how to put a safety belt on this issue. 

Once addicted, industry controls such as pharmaceutical formularies, or reimbursement restrictions might stem the outgoing dollars from the work comp medical benefit component, but does not stop the intrepid from seeking "treatment" on the black market.

Prescription drug addiction is not just a workers' compensation problem, but the industry needs to control the supply of medication better to prevent addiction in the first place. 

Pain is not a nice thing, but it is the body's way of warning a person that a certain activity isn't good. It can be managed, but pharmaceuticals are not a long term solution.


  1. Several articles have been published indicating that over 100,000 Americans die yearly from properly prescribed medication. Drug abuse , in my opinion,has been on the rise for decades. The work comp abuse is only one small arena.

  2. Dr. Ed - you are correct. The issue with WC drug abuse though is the dramatic increase over the last couple of years - something that is reflective of a mal-adjustment in the system as one profit loophole is closed shifting profiteering to another.