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Study Finds Many Doctors Fail to Follow Guidelines for Narcotic Painkillers

A recent study has found that physicians often fail to follow recommended treatment guidelines when they prescribe narcotic painkillers for injured workers, which can lead to abuse and addiction.

The study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute of Cambridge, Mass., looked at records of nearly 300,000 workers’ compensation claims in 21 states, including Massachusetts, from 2006 through 2009. The study then tracked prescription records for the patients through March 31, 2011.

As many as one in 12 workers who were prescribed narcotic painkillers, such as Oxycontin or Vicodin, were still using them three to six months later. Injured workers often were not monitored through drug testing or given psychological evaluations, which can help to prevent misuse and abuse of the medications. Only 18-30 percent of workers who were considered longer-term users of the painkillers received drug testing in most of the states studied. A median of 4-7 percent of the workers receiving narcotic pain killers were given psychological tests. The state with the highest marks for the use of psychological evaluations tested only 25 percent of the patients.

Some Improvement in Massachusetts

Although the study’s findings are less than encouraging, there was some good news for Massachusetts. From 2007 to 2011, the percentage of injured Massachusetts workers who were considered to be longer-term users of narcotic painkillers decreased from 11 percent to seven percent.

A mandatory physician education program may have contributed to the decrease. A 2010 law requires physicians to complete training in effective pain management and identification of patients at high risk for abuse. Massachusetts also implemented a Prescription Monitoring Program, which provides a database to prevent patients from “doctor-shopping” for highly addictive pain medications. As of this year, doctors will be required to sign into the database and confirm that a patient has not received other narcotics prescriptions within the previous year before prescribing narcotic painkillers.

Of course some work-related injuries require long-term use of narcotic based pain killers; however, the new laws are aimed at preventing a patient from receiving multiple prescriptions for narcotics when they are not medically necessary.

Ask a Massachusetts Workplace Injury Lawyer to Review Your Case

If you have been injured in a Massachusetts workplace accident, the Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at Kantrovitz & Associates, P.C., are available to review your claim and help you decide what your next move should be.

If you would like to know what legal options you have for a work-related injury, we can be reached by calling 800-367-0871 or by using our online contact form.

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