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What Employers Should Know about Opioids and Injured Workers

 By Thomas J. Phelan, CPA
 President and CEO
 Chesapeake Employers’
 Insurance Company

Accidental death as a result of an overdose of opioid pain medication has become a serious public health problem in recent years, and workers’ compensation insurers like Chesapeake Employers Insurance are on the front lines fighting this epidemic.

Opioid addiction prevents workers from returning to gainful employment, adversely affects families and leads to increases in medical costs for employers and insurers. In some cases, prescription opioid addiction can also lead to heroin addiction and accidental overdose or death.

Deaths Continue to Rise in MD
Prescription opioid-related overdose deaths continue to rise in Maryland. From January through June 2016, 210 prescription opioid-related deaths were recorded in Maryland – a 10 percent increase over the first six months of 2015, according to the Maryland Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH).

Evidence suggests that the rise in accidental opioid deaths in Maryland may originate from increased prescription opioid misuse and abuse.

The Problem with Rx Opioid Pain Meds
Prescription opioid pain medications are frequently indicated after a workplace accident when an injured worker experiences acute pain. The narcotic pain relievers oxycodone and OxyContin® are among the most frequently prescribed medications for chronic pain among Maryland’s injured workers, according to Chesapeake Employers’ statistics.

Despite the increased use of opioid pain medications to treat injured workers, the National Safety Council’s 2015 report, Prescription Pain Medications, states that evidence shows the increased use of these drugs does not result in better treatment outcomes.

While there can be benefits to opioid prescription pain medications in the acute phase of an injury, the use of these medications can become a problem if used beyond this time. It is very easy for patients to develop a tolerance to prescription opioid pain medication.

This is a dangerous cycle that can result in physical dependency – where they may have symptoms of withdrawal when the medication is stopped – and addiction.

What We’re Doing to Help

Because we understand the horrific impact that opioid abuse can have on the lives of injured workers, their families, and communities, this issue has become a critical focus for Chesapeake Employers. We have begun numerous initiatives to help address the abuse from a work comp perspective for the benefit of our injured workers as well as all Maryland citizens.

With the support of our board of directors, we have committed $750,000 over three years to support the state’s efforts to bolster Maryland’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) and other efforts to help curb the opioid epidemic in Maryland. The PDMP is a state-run database that collects information on the prescribing and dispensing of controlled prescription drugs to patients.

We worked to help pass new legislation that went into effect in Maryland on Oct. 1, requiring all medical providers and prescribers to be registered with the state’s PDMP and to use information from that database when treating their patients.

And, in certain cases where an injured worker has become addicted to opioid pain medications, Chesapeake Employers Insurance pays for detoxification treatment in a professional pain recovery program.

Our ultimate goal is to return injured workers safely to the workforce so they can regain their sense of productivity and responsibility to their families, their employers and their community.

Thomas J. Phelan, CPA, is President and CEO of Chesapeake Employers’ Insurance Company (, the largest writer of workers’ compensation insurance in Maryland.


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