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CWCI study explores true costs of increased drug testing of injured workers

In previous workers' compensation defense posts, we've discussed how state lawmakers, health officials and employer/employee advocacy groups are all growing increasingly concerned about the rate at which prescriptions for narcotic painkillers are being issued to injured workers here in California.

Interestingly, a new study suggests that this rise in painkiller prescriptions may not only be endangering the physical wellbeing of workers but also raising work comp costs for employers considerably.

According to the recently released study by the California Workers' Compensation Institute (CWCI), billed charges for drug testing of injured workers reached nearly $78 million between 2004 and 2011, while the number of tests administered rose a whopping 4,537 percent during this same timeframe.

Not surprisingly, the CWCI is drawing a connection between this explosion in drug testing costs and the explosion in narcotic painkillers being prescribed to injured workers.

"What this shows is that the increase in the use of drug testing and the cost of drug testing parallels the rise in use of opioids and schedule II pharmaceuticals in the California workers' compensation system," said Alex Swedlow, executive vice president of research for the CWCI and author of the study.

Why then are so many drug tests being performed?

Interestingly enough, one of the primary reasons why these drug tests are being administered is to make certain that injured workers are actually taking their prescribed medications and not opting to simply sell them on the black market for big dollars.

However, the CWCI's stance is that such drug testing is unnecessary for the simple reason that many of these painkiller prescriptions shouldn't even have been written for injured workers.

"Now we appear to be compounding the problem with not only prescribing drugs for injured workers that are not only not a good clinical fit, but we're testing for the absence of those drugs or prescriptions that shouldn't have been prescribed in the first place," said Swedlow.

It remains to be seen what steps -- if any -- lawmakers are going to take address this problem.

Stay tuned for updates from our workers' compensation defense blog ...

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


Insurance Journal, "Study: Drug testing driving Calif. workers' comp costs," Don Jergler, May 23, 2012

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