The Pennsylvania state Senate recently passed legislation designed to expand limits on opioid painkiller prescriptions. The bills, part of a broader package to fight the growing opioid addiction epidemic, propose several methods for preventing overdose deaths in the state. Despite passing unanimously, the bill remains a topic of debate, some lauding its aggressive limitations and others pointing to its potentially detrimental effects.

Mitigating the Opioid Crisis in Pennsylvania
According to the governor, the opioid overdose epidemic is the worst public health crisis in Pennsylvania. He has signed six renewals for the Opioid Disaster Declaration, allowing the Commonwealth to utilize the necessary tools to help those affected. The efforts have proven successful, helping to bring overdose deaths in the state down by approximately 20 percent in 2018.

Opinions are Divided on Benefits of Painkiller Prescription Legislation
The package of bills includes several strategies for putting limits on opioid prescriptions. One bill proposes imposing a seven-day limit on opioid painkiller prescriptions for all adults, not just for minors and emergency room patients – the only two groups currently under such limitation.

The bill does maintain the existing exceptions for the prescribing doctor’s judgment regarding whether a longer prescription is necessary, typically for patients suffering with chronic pain. However, it adds an exception for a “major surgical procedure”. Despite opposition, a definition for major surgical procedure was not included, thereby leaving it open to interpretation.

The bill’s sponsor says some of the hospital groups that once opposed the prescription limits are now in favor because they are finding alternatives, such as over-the-counter painkillers. However, advocates of those suffering with chronic pain express concern over the degree to which the legislation limits doctors’ discretion and the extent to which it fosters the stigma associated with doctors who prescribe opioids.

Workers’ Compensation for Chronic Pain
Most workers in Pennsylvania are covered under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act, which grants them the right to compensation for work-related injuries and illnesses. Typical benefits include compensation for all reasonable and necessary medical expenses, as well as lost wages. Workers may not recover compensation for pain and suffering in a workers’ compensation claim, however, in some cases they may be able to obtain compensation for chronic pain caused by their job duties or environment.

To be compensable, the pain must limit the worker’s ability to perform his or her job functions. Employers often deny claims for repetitive injuries, aggravation of preexisting injuries, and chronic conditions. Those whose claims were denied may still be able to obtain benefits if successful upon appeal; seek the counsel of a qualified attorney to ensure that all legal requirements and deadlines are met.

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