New Report on Painkillers Could Affect Treatment Recommendations

By Bill Leonard Oct 13, 2014
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A white paper published Oct. 6, 2014, by the National Safety Council (NSC) on the effectiveness of prescription painkillers could change the way health and safety experts think about the recommended treatments for injured workers.

The white paper asserted that an increasing amount of research is concluding that a combination of over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be more effective in treating acute and chronic pain than prescription opioid painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. Opioid painkillers can be useful in treating pain but are also highly addictive. The misuse of opioid painkillers has become a significant issue for employers, since injured workers who abuse or have become addicted to prescription drugs can pose a safety risk to themselves and their co-workers.

The NSC’s findings concluded that nonaddictive painkillers available without a prescription can be viable alternatives. The white paper was released six weeks after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) published final regulations that reclassified hydrocodone combination medications, such as Vicodin, from Schedule III to Schedule II drugs.

The drug schedule corresponds to the potential a drug has for abuse, with Schedule I drugs representing the most potential for abuse and Schedule V the least.

“Almost 7 million Americans abuse controlled-substance prescription medications, including opioid painkillers, resulting in more deaths from prescription drug overdoses than auto accidents,” said DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart in a press statement when the new rule was released. “Today’s action recognizes that these products are some of the most addictive and potentially dangerous prescription medications available.”

The DEA’s reclassification makes any medicines containing hydrocodone more difficult for doctors to prescribe, and patients cannot have prescriptions refilled without seeing their doctor.

“There are alternatives to highly addictive opioids for treating severe pain,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the NSC. “Prescription opioid overdoses resulted in more than 16,900 deaths in 2011. We must change the paradigm of treating pain if we are to curb this national health crisis.”

According to statistics from the DEA, drug overdoses are a leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for adults ages 25-64. In addition, research has shown that the abuse of opioid painkillers is a key driver in the increase of injury-related deaths. Data shows that since 1990, consumption of opioid-based drugs has increased 600 percent in the U.S.

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.​

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