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Workers' comp for issues related to opioid addiction

A recent influx in cases involving the use of opioid medication for catastrophic injuries and surgery, related to workers compensation claims, resulting in major and expensive dental procedures has caused both workers compensation adjusters and stakeholders to stand up and take notice. Opioids are one of 1,800 types of medications that can lead to dry mouth which can be linked to dental damage and costly treatments. 

The problem with growing dental claims

It can take aWowhile for bills related to workers compensation to come through, sometimes even taking up to a year or two after the treatment until they are fully processed. Because of this, the problem has likely worsened, and treatments continue to pile up as the patient may be unaware that the problem stems from their use of opioid medication or may not understand the proper hygiene steps they need to take to counteract it.

Opioid use can be linked to dental problems for two primary reasons. The first is that it limits the buildup of saliva in your mouth. This can cause the food debris to remain on the teeth longer, leading to tooth decay and gum issues. Another common problem is that when taking opioid medication, the patient may feel less pain and may not realize they have an affected tooth until the decay has become severe.

How to prevent major dental issues with opioid use?

While it may not seem to be a significant concern when first addressing the issues of an injured worker, the earlier that they are treated for dental problems caused by dental use the better. This can include educating workers on the dental issues that can occur and encouraging them to seek out dental treatment early in the claims process.

The opioid crisis causes more than dental concerns

Unfortunately, dental problems are only a small part of the problem that can occur by regular use of opioids. Workplace injuries can often result in chronic or long-term pain, and it is these workers that are at a much higher risk for addiction or dependency. Even short-term use for injuries can lead to dependency issues and a host of other problems. Other problems that long-term opioid use for workers compensation claims can lead to include:

  • A delay in the injured worker's return to work - Injured workers who are receiving higher doses of opioids will stay off work three times longer, on average, than those with similar injuries who have been prescribed lower doses. 
  • Safety issues with the recovering employee or their co-workers - When taking opioids, you can be less alert and have a slower reaction time. Because of this, they not only put themselves at risk when returning to work, but also their co-workers as well.
  • Lower productivity and more missed days - When opioid use turns into an addiction, workers will lose more work days and will often be less productive in their jobs.
  • Higher claim costs - The claim costs for those prescribed high doses of opioids will be much higher on average than claims of those with similar injuries who are not taking them. Claims cost will rise due to longer recovery times, drug addiction treatment, more time off work, and higher prescription costs. 

Is there a connection between worker's compensation claims and a higher risk of opioid addiction?

Prescription opioids have long been a go-to for injuries, and most worker's compensation claims are related to these types of injuries. But there are other factors that can lead to a connection between worker's compensation claims and opioid dependency. The first being the nature of the doctor/patent relationship. Physicians tending to patients in a workers' compensation situation will spend significantly less time than the typical doctor/patient relationship. With the connection between worker's compensation claims and opioid addiction becoming more apparent, it is more important for providers and stakeholders to put systems in place to help battle the opioid crisis in the country. 

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