Workplace Injuries: An Ounce Of Democratic Prevention Is Worth A Pound Of Republican Cure - And A Lot Cheaper

It's amazing how frequently you can blame things on Republicans if you just dig deep enough -- for instance, this story about workplace injuries and how much they cost.

Can you guess whose fault it is? I knew you could! This is from a piece NPR did on repetitive stress injuries back in 2001:

Following years of field research and weighing opinions on the problem, OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, issued new workplace rules last November designed to prevent repetitive motion injuries. President Clinton made them the law in January, four days before he left office. But yesterday, the Senate, acting on Congress' never- before-used authority to repeal executive branch regulations expeditiously, voted 56-44 to eliminate those regulations.

So now, companies are paying out boatloads of cash to keep their crippled workers performing and it turns out it's actually more expensive to patch people together and write them a prescription than it is to prevent the original injury. The workers' comp system is a joke, too. Who do you think is writing all those scripts? Workers comp doctors, who have the same strategy as NFL trainers: Shoot 'em up with cortisone and send them back into the game.

And the final piece of the puzzle? The less-than-stringent enforcement of OSHA regulations, the very thing that might actually prevent the major accidents that seem to plague our regulation-hating, job-creating corporations:

Workplace insurers are accustomed to making billions of dollars in payments each year, with the biggest sums going to employees hurt in major accidents, like those mangled by machines or crushed in building collapses.

Now they are dealing with another big and fast-growing cost — payouts to workers with routine injuries who have been treated with strong painkillers, including many who do not return to work for months, if ever.

Workplace insurers spend an estimated $1.4 billion annually on narcotic painkillers, or opioids. But they are also finding that the medications, if used too early in treatment, too frequently or for too long, can drive up associated disability payouts and medical expenses by delaying an employee’s return to work.

Workers who received high doses of opioid painkillers to treat injuries like back strain stayed out of work three times longer than those with similar injuries who took lower doses, a 2008 study of claims by the California Workers Compensation Institute found. When medical care and disability payments are combined, the cost of a workplace injury is nine times higher when a strong narcotic like OxyContin is used than when a narcotic is not used, according to a 2010 analysis by Accident Fund Holdings, an insurer that operates in 18 states.

“What we see is an association between the greater use of opioids and delayed recovery from workplace injuries,” said Alex Swedlow, the head of research at the California Workers Compensation Institute.

The use of narcotics to treat occupational injuries is part of a broader problem involving what many experts say is the excessive use of drugs like OxyContin, Percocet and Duragesic. But workplace injuries are drawing particular interest because the drugs are widely prescribed to treat common problems like back pain, even though there is little evidence that they provide long-term benefits.


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