Like many states, North Carolina has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, and workers’ compensation claimants are particularly vulnerable, because they must find a way to control their pain, so they can get back to work. Like many folks experiencing severe pain, injured workers often fall victim to prescription opioid addiction. Sometimes prescription addiction even leads to the use of illegal drugs, when pain continues but prescriptions run out.
The North Carolina Industrial Commission, which oversees workers’ compensation claims, is hoping to reduce addiction among workers’ compensation claimants by proposing rules reducing the availability and overuse of prescription pain killers.
The major proposed changes for workers’ compensation claimants:
- Before prescribing medications, doctors must at least consider prescribing acupuncture, massage, physical therapy, and functional restoration This means insurance companies may have to pay for alternative treatment for injured workers if a doctor prescribes it. Until now, patients experiencing pain often had to pay out of pocket for alternative pain management, even if that treatment controlled their pain and helped them get back to work.
- A doctor cannot prescribe more than one “targeted controlled substance” during the first 12 weeks of treatment after an accident. Also, during that 12-week period, the doctor can only prescribe a low number of pills at a time, and never more than a 5-day supply at a time. This rule is intended to discourage overuse or the selling of prescription drugs to others.
- During the first 12 weeks after an accident, doctors cannot prescribe benzodiazepines (“benzos”) at all, either for pain or as a muscle relaxant.
- Doctors must review a patient’s medical history for the previous year before prescribing pain medication. This requirement is meant to help doctors avoid prescribing opioids to patients showing “drug-seeking behavior,” meaning those who are addicted to the “high” but do not really need drugs to control pain.
- Doctors who plan to continue prescribing a “targeted controlled substance” after that first 12 weeks must monitor the patient carefully, including performing random urine drug testing (“pee tests”), screening medical records, limiting dosage and supply, performing yearly medical screenings, and adhering to strict documenting procedures.
- If a doctor suspects drug abuse, the doctor must refer the patient to a provider specializing in drug and addiction treatment.
These rules are proposed to take effect in May 2018, but they are not yet final. Attorneys, doctors, insurance companies, and members of the public are still providing written feedback and input to the task force writing the rules. A public hearing will be held on March 2, 2018.
What do you think? Would these rules help injured workers or cause more problems? The workers’ compensation attorneys at Copeley Johnson & Groninger PLLC will continue monitoring these proposed rules carefully to make sure they will help injured workers minimize pain but also avoid addiction. If you or a loved one suffered a workers’ compensation injury and is concerned about the proposed rules, please contact one of our experienced workers’ compensation attorneys. We would love to hear from you.