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Injured workers who lose their opioid prescriptions are engaging attorneys to try to maintain access to the drugs, according to legal experts.
Charles Cochrane, a Roseville, Minnesota-based attorney whose practice, Cochrane Law Offices, sees mostly injured workers, estimates that half of his caseload is “fighting about narcotics.”
In one such case, decided by the Supreme Court of Minnesota in April, the employer was trying to force weaning for a metal worker who had been on a steady dose of opioids since an ankle injury in 2002 left him with “complex regional pain syndrome,” according to documents in William H. Johnson v. Darchuks Fabrication Inc. et al. The court ruled that the employer can apply its treatment parameters if it has accepted the injury as compensable, which it had, and if doctors can gauge whether the treatment is medically necessary.
The case was remanded back to a lower court to consider the employer’s proposal to monitor the claim over continuing the drug protocol.
“The problem is for his condition, there is no treatment” other than drugs, said Mr. Cochrane. “We have tons of such people in this office.”
“We are seeing more and more of these (employers) coming back saying we are going to take you off of these medications,” said Sam Marcellino, Columbus, Ohio-based associate at Barkan Meizlish LLP, which represents injured workers. “These are legacy claims where people have been taking these medications for years. They are not drug addicts. They are taking these for relief.”
Such cases will continue to increase as insurers and regulators try to rein in opioid prescribing, said Eugene Keefe, Chicago-based partner at Keefe, Campbell, Biery & Associates LLC, a comp defense firm.
“The good thing about most (workers compensation) hearing officers across the country is they are not going to order a lifetime of narcotics,” he said.
While the overall use of opioids among injured workers is trending downward due to the combined efforts of doctors, insurers, pharmacy benefit managers and regulators, older claims remain troublesome, experts say.