How Boston's Opioid Problem is Changing Workers' Comp

How Boston's Opioid Problem is Changing Workers' Comp Hero Image

The opioid epidemic in America has skyrocketed in recent years, and in cities like Boston it has been particularly severe. With so many looking for answers and not finding any, who will step in and try to come up with solutions?

Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker recently announced a two-year pilot program with the intention of expediting settled workers’ compensation claims involving opioid prescriptions.

The program, a voluntary one for injured workers, is something of an experiment. Issuing a short-term opioid prescription is often how doctors begin their treatment for workers hurt on the job, but when cases and settlements take as long as they do to finish, the opioid prescriptions continue instead of other courses of treatment. This leaves people at serious risk of addiction.

If the program works, it could be crucial to the Boston community, a step toward figuring out ways to stop dependency before it starts.

Overdoses Are Skyrocketing

In 2013 and 2014, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths went up about 28 percent each year, according to numbers from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. In 2015, it went from 105 deaths to 138 - approximately a 38 percent increase.

It’s a concerning but common tale throughout many cities and towns in Massachusetts. Worcester’s opioid-related deaths went up almost 34 percent in 2015. They went up nearly 78 percent in New Bedford, and they more than doubled in Springfield.

From January to September in 2016, there were 1005 confirmed opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts. 75 percent of them were men. 58 percent of these opioid fatalities were ages 25-44, while a third of them were in the 45-64 range.

These numbers skew very differently from the state’s stats on total deaths per year. This epidemic has shown no signs of stopping, taking people in the primes of their lives. Is there anything anyone can try to do before it becomes totally out of our control?

Speeding Up the Workers’ Comp Process

Charlie Baker proposed this new program for when insurance companies in settled workers’ compensation claims look to stop paying for opioids. More often than not, resolving these cases has been time-consuming, sometimes taking a year. Throughout that time, the opioids are still being prescribed.

That’s an easy way to unknowingly form a dependency, just because of an injury at work. Especially when considering a study that Baker cited unveiled a surprising fact: Massachusetts’s injured workers are prescribed more opioids than the workers of other states.

With this program, however, the idea is that should you choose to take part, your case will be fast-tracked to mediation. A coordinator is assigned to work as an intermediary between the workers and insurance company, and together they will look to find an alternative treatment.

In fast tracking this, the plan is for the worker to meet with a judge within 45 days, as opposed to the lengthy waits of the past. It’s entirely voluntary, and at any point the worker can withdraw from the program.

What’s interesting is that there isn’t yet a direct precedent to prove whether this will be successful or not; Ohio only just started a similar project in October, and New York will be allowing expedited hearing requests in 2017.

But the implementation of the program is a promising step toward helping people who really need it. Cutting off opioids before a dependency or overdose can potentially occur can go a long way in cutting down on abuse, especially if the program takes off.

Injuries at work are sometimes unavoidable. A more open discussion of opioid abuse and the ways we can pursue alternative treatments is necessary, and workers’ compensation — an area where opioid prescriptions are frequent — is as good a place as any to start.

Workers’ comp claims can be complex, and it can be important to have someone helping walk you through it. The attorneys at Morgan & Morgan have extensive experience in settling workers’ compensation claims, and our Boston lawyers may be able to help you with a case. Read more about what our workers’ comp attorneys have to offer, and if you think you have a case, fill out our free, no-obligation case review form.