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Big Pharma's solution to workplace injury is often more pills

If you have been injured on the job, and are in pain, your doctor is likely to prescribe a painkiller. Chances are that painkiller will be an opioid - Fiorional, Tylenol or Empirin with codeine, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, Demerol®, Vicodin®, Oxycontin®, Dilaudid, Percocet®, Percodan, Norco or another opioid.

The idea behind these painkillers is to tide the injured over unless the pain subsides.

Unfortunately, for some injured workers, the pain doesn't subside or the patient needs more and more of the opioid to get relief. Too often, however, and the patient becomes addicted to the drug. When the prescription lapses, the patient is compelled to buy more pills, illegally, on the street, or to switch to even more dangerous drugs, such as heroin.

Drug overdoses have now surpassed traffic accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. The driver behind this surge is opioid addiction, responsible for 18,893 deaths caused by prescription pain relievers. Another 10,574 deaths were heroin-related. [Source: American Society of Addiction Medicine]

The opioid problem emerged as a political issue in the presidential election. Too many workers and their family members were being sidelined and killed by products distributed far too casually by medical providers.

An in the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted the self-serving strategy of the pharmaceutical industry - and how its marketing approach complicates the recovery of injured workers.

The story detailed how a healthy 39-year-old Philadelphia man, a body-builder, was injured, was prescribed painkillers, and died several months later. Investigation showed that he was obtaining nearly 200 narcotic pain and anxiety pills every week. His prescribing doctor operated on a cash-only basis, so insurance companies could not pick up on the extreme pattern.

Clearly, this man was the victim of an unscrupulous, indifferent provider. But behind it all is the marketing efforts of our top pharmaceutical companies. A Fortune article suggested that 254 million opioid prescriptions were filled in one recent year. That's enough to medicate every adult person in the country for a month. That same year, pharmaceutical companies took in $11 billion in opioid sales alone.

"While no one can fault pharmaceutical companies for making money," Addictions.com advises, "the opioid epidemic would not exist without the type of tremendous pull these companies have in the marketplace."

The wide perception is that the right kind of healthcare - examination, treatment and followup by a thoughtful, ethical physician -- is too expensive and too time-consuming. Pills are presented as the short-term, lower cost alternative. And while these powerful drugs are a proper part of the treatment of workplace injuries, our system is out of whack.

When you are injured on the job and your doctor prescribes a potent opioid, ask about the potential for addiction, and what the trouble signs are. To a significant degree, you must be assertive about the prescriptions written for you. It's no good to be treated for one problem, if the "solution" ruins your life and your family's life as well.

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Big Pharma's solution to workplace injury is often more pills | Rose, Klein & Marias, LLP