Federal opioid limitations: Good intentions, bad outcomes

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Senate Republicans and Democrats, including Presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand, have introduced legislation that would limit opioid prescriptions to a set number of days and limit refills. In my view such legislation would negatively impact people who were injured on the job.

I mostly agree with analysis of the legislation that was recently published in Rewire. One size fits all solutions don’t account for the needs of patients with chronic pain. Recently authors of the Centers for Disease Control guidelines for opioid prescriptions have stated that those guidelines have been misused to arbitrarily limit opioid prescriptions for pain management.

As a practical matter,  in my experience prescriptions for opioids are already severely limited for injured workers. Statutory limits on opioids are a good excuse for insurers and self-insureds to wash their hands of future medical care obligations under workers compensation.

Opiod prescription limitations have other effects. Pain doctors who don’t prescribe opioids have more timeh to perfrom procedures. Procedures are more profitable for doctors and increase cost. Primarry care dcotors are often reluctant to prescribe opiods which puts more pressure on pain management doctors. 

There are alternatives to opioids for pain managemen. Stem cell therapy has shown promise in treating pain. But insurers are reluctant to approve those options as that could increase costs for them and leave medical claims under workers’ compensation open.

I believe that opioid prescription monitoring is a better solution to fighting addiction than prescription limits. Those systems can flag potential problem users and get them help. In the case of someone hurt on the job who develops an addiction to pain medication, treatment for that addiction could be covered by workers compensation.

Massachusetts  also developed what amounts to a drug court for opioids within their workers’ compensation court. Problem solving courts, like drug courts, are being increasingly used to help those with substance use issues in the criminal justice system. Massachusetts has adopted the idea in an administrative setting. Federal limits on opioid prescriptions would run counter to innovative programs put in place at a state and local level.

Workers compensation laws developed in the early 20th century when workplace safety laws could only be constitutionally enacted through state police powers under the 10th Amendment. Constitutional law evolved changed during the New Deal era which gave Congress broader regulatory powers over workplace safety and the economy in general.

As a result of the broadening of federal regulatory powers, federal laws limiting opioid prescriptions would likely be constitutional even if they interfered with innovative state programs like Massachusetts workers’ compensation opioid court. While the federal government seems to feel compelled to undercut state workers compensation laws to the detriment of workers, the federal government has given up on oversight of state workers compensation laws that could benefit workers.

The United States Department of Labor monitored state workers compensation laws as result of recommendations from the National Commission on State Workers Compensation Laws. The Commission set up 18 standards for state laws. The DOL stopped overseeing state workers compensation laws in 2004.

In 2015 several Senators and Congressional members, including then and current Presidential candidate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, wrote to the Secretary of Labor about reinstating federal oversight of state workers compensation laws. Reporting by Pro Publica highlighted the shortcomings of state workers’ compensation laws The Department of Labor has made no progress on federal oversight of state workers’ compensation laws since then.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett, Moore & Rehm, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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