New guidelines dictate opioid prescriptions for injured workers

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf just rolled out new guidelines for how opioids will be prescribed to employees injured on the job. The guidelines are meant to ensure workers receive safe, quality healthcare, while reducing the risk of addiction.

The state ranks third in country with the number of workers that become addicted to opioids. ABC27 News states that in Pennsylvania, there were 17,000 workers’ compensation claims filed in 2017.

The Health Department posted the recommendations for healthcare workers on its website. Instead of prescribing opioids, the guidelines suggest over-the-counter painkillers like Tylenol, possibly paired with anti-inflammatory drugs. For more severe injuries, nonopioid muscle relaxers, such as cyclobenzaprine, are recommended. Emergency room doctors are also advised not to prescribe more than 3 days’ worth of opioids and only to do so in the most extreme circumstances.

Critics point out the guidelines are just that, guidelines. That means healthcare workers or hospitals have no legal obligation to follow these recommendations.

This past spring, Wolf vetoed a bill that would have limited the types of drugs healthcare workers could provide injured employees. Unlike the guidelines, this bill would have been enforceable by law.

However, critics of this bill suggested it was an overreach on the part of the government. Unions suggested it could be harmful to injured workers. Health Department Secretary Rachel Levine also stated she thought the bill included too many drugs.

The Health Department also believes focusing on the issue of over-prescription will make a bigger impact on the opioid epidemic. A recently passed law requires Pennsylvania physicians to take continuing education classes on proper opioid prescription practices. There is also a new state-controlled drug monitoring program meant to catch doctors that are writing too many opioid prescriptions, as well as patients who drug seekers.

According to the Meadville Tribune, the American Medical Association believes these types of efforts are paying off because doctors in Pennsylvania wrote 1.3 million fewer opioid prescriptions in 2017 than the prior year.

As for the new guidelines, the state will have to wait and see whether these recommendations have any effect on injured workers becoming addicted to opioids.