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Report: 3 percent of California work comp physicians prescribe over half of all pain medications

A recently released study by the California Workers' Compensation Institute (CWCI) made some very startling revelations regarding the number of physicians prescribing strong and potentially addictive pain medications to treat work injuries.

According to the CWCI study, three percent of the roughly 9,000 physicians currently found in the California workers' compensation system are responsible for writing over half (55 percent) of all prescriptions for strong pain medications.

"The top prescribers, which represent about 279 physicians, are driving two-thirds of all payments - 2 out of every 3 dollars - for these" drugs, said Alex Swedlow, executive vice president of the CWCI and author of the study.

While high levels of pain medications are sometimes necessary for patients who suffered serious work injuries, the CWCI did determine that their recovery time is typically 119 longer than those taking little or no pain medications.

Some experts theorize that this small group of physicians may be operating so-called "pill mills" in an attempt to receive payments for tests, monthly office visits and other medical providers. Still others theorize that these physicians may have some sort of illicit financial relationship with pharmacies.

Whatever the reason behind the high prescription rate among such a small number of physicians, the consensus among medical and business professionals is that two underlying problems allow this problem to persist.

The first problem is the general lack of oversight in the work comp system, as it is lacking many of the same cost controls as standard health insurance.

"The workers' comp industry is a very soft target for health care providers and other people who want to take advantage of regulatory or other loopholes," said Joe Paduda, a work comp consultant with Health Strategy Associates.

The second problem is the lack of funding set aside for regulatory agencies to investigate and rectify the problem.

"The state medical licensing board is horribly underfunded in terms of getting on top of these obviously crazy prescribing patterns by a small percentage of doctors," said Dr. Arnold Milstein, head of Stanford University's Clinical Excellence Research Center.

Stay tuned for further developments in the area of workers' compensation defense ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Related Resources:

Most prescriptions from 3% of workers' comp doctors (The San Francisco Chronicle)

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