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Pursuant to PA Chamber President Gene Barr’s column this month, let’s break down the state’s issue with workers’ compensation and opioid abuse.

As Barr notes, Senate Bill 936 would create a schedule of prescription drugs that the state’s publicly-financed workers’ compensation program would pay for. Not all workers’ injuries, presumably, would be eligible to have the cost of opioid painkillers paid for by the state if SB 936 were to be passed and a drug schedule formulated.

In their memo on this bill, PA Senators White, Scarnati, and Regan cite an investigative report from the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer this past September.

The investigation indicated that a prominent Philadelphia workers’ compensation law firm, along with several physicians, owned stakes a pharmacy. The attorneys were referring inured workers to their affiliated doctors, who would prescribe expensive opioid medications through the pharmacy that the attorneys and doctors owned. The pharmacy would then bill the state’s workers’ compensation fund at inflated prices for the medications.

The over-prescription of opioids to injured workers is particularly acute in Pennsylvania. The most comprehensive study on the link between opioids and workers’ compensation is done by Workers’ Compensation Research Institute, which most recently studied workers’ compensation cases in 26 states that were made in the year between October 2012 and September 2013, with prescriptions filled up through March 2015.

That study showed that 67 percent of workers who were prescribed a pain medication received opioids, as opposed to the 33 percent who received a non-opioid painkiller. This was a comparatively low ratio – in Arkansas, for instance 85 percent of workers’ compensation pain cases were given opioids.

But Pennsylvania ranked second-highest on the volume of opioids per each workers’ compensation case. The average claim netted 258 pills, compared to a median of 176 pills per claim among the 26 states in the study.

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