Few people are drawing a connection between the misuse and substance abuse of opioids that is sweeping the United States and workers’ compensation insurance. However, for employees in New Jersey there is reason to believe that the governmental response to opioid abuse will directly impact the workers’ compensation scheme in the state.
Background Information on Opioid Misuse in New Jersey
Between 2004 and 2015 the number of drug overdoses in New Jersey exponentially grew, and most of the deaths are from an overdose of heroine or morphine. There were only 362 heroine and morphine deaths in 2004, but a scary 961 deaths in 2015. This rise in fatalities from opioids is due in part to fentanyl, an incredibly strong and dangerous opioid, being mixed with street heroine.
What mirrors this epidemic in illegal opioids is the misuse of prescription painkillers in New Jersey. Data shows that for many heroine users, there was a progression of prescription drug addiction to the stronger, illegal drug. It is this progression that New Jersey wants to stop, or at the very least diminish.
To this effect, on February 15, 2017, Governor Chris Christie signed into law new restrictions on the prescription of opioids and certain other drugs in Senate Bill 3. These restrictions are likely to change how workers’ compensation doctors are able to treat patients and what information an employer will receive due to reporting requirements in the law.
New Requirements of Senate Bill 3
There are two major impositions on prescriptions for opioids. First, an initial prescription can only be written for five days. After this period, patient and physician must meet for a consultation, and the physician must deem a longer prescription medically necessary. Then the prescription can be extended for 25 more days.
In addition, there are documentation and reporting requirements placed on the physician. These include careful due diligence into the employee’s medical history and performing a physical examination before writing any prescription for opioids, a treatment plan must be in place before a prescription is provided, and documentation for extension of the initial, five-day prescription completed.
Impact of Senate Bill 3 on Workers’ Compensation
Overall this law is aimed at preventing misuse of opioids, and worse the escalation from abusing painkillers to illegal drugs. However, it will also require additional doctor’s visits, increase medical costs, and cause more conditions for people who suffer from chronic pain due to a work-related injury. There may be some pushback from insurance companies and employers to cover these costs.
On the other side, insurance companies will need more oversight over the physicians that see workers’ compensation patients. There will need to be some verification that the regulations are followed and proper documentation and consultations completed. Claims adjusters will need to do more work in tracking when prescriptions are extended, and how this incremental process could affect settlement of a workers’ compensation case.
As well, the new documentation and reporting requirements placed on physicians will give insurance providers, and as a result employers, additional information on employees, their prescriptions, and medications. While the exact impact of Senate Bill 3 will only be determined over time, the fear is the law makes treating chronic pain more difficult, expensive, and intensive for workers’ compensation insurance providers, which in turn makes these companies less likely to approve a claim.
Speak with a Lawyer About Your Treatment
If you are currently taking prescription painkillers to manage pain from a work-related injury, and have questions regarding how Senate Bill 3 and the crackdown on opioid use may directly affect you, it is helpful to speak with a workers’ compensation lawyer. Contact The Law Offices of Albert J. Talone, LLC for answers. By calling (856) 234-4023 you can schedule an initial consultation on your workers’ compensation case and legal changes.
The information in this blog post (“Post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this Post should be construed as legal advice from The Law Office of Albert J. Talone or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.