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Opiate abuse on increase for workers’ compensation injuries

Opiate abuse on increase for workers’ compensation injuries

When you’ve been injured on the job, one of the first things you want is relief from any pain you are suffering. Once you see a medical professional, you may be prescribed painkillers of whatever strength he or she deems appropriate. In many cases where severe pain is associated with the injury, some form of an opiate may be prescribed.

The dangers associated with this class of drugs are of such concern that the Pennsylvania legislature and the National Safety Council have both taken action to educate employers and employees about them and regulate their use.

To further emphasize the seriousness of the issue, the National Safety Council’s report is entitled: “Prescription pain medications: A fatal cure for injured workers”. The findings in the report include:

  • Workers who take opioids to treat on-the-job injuries tend to become addicted and even fatally overdose;
  • Workers who use opiates for more than one week are twice as likely to be disabled one year later;
  • Painkillers significantly impact the amount of workers’ compensation paid to those who use them, costing up to 900 percent more than workers not using them, including detoxification treatments; and
  • Health experts say that opiate use contributes to increased heroin use because heroin is cheaper and no prescription is required.

The new Pennsylvania law limits prescriptions for drugs in this class to seven days unless surgery or another medical procedure is required, which allows for the extension of the prescription for up to 15 days from the date of the procedure.

The effects can be detrimental not just to the employee who may become addicted, but also to the workers’ compensation system in general. When employees overdose and die, courts, including in Pennsylvania, hold employers and their workers’ compensation insurance carriers responsible for the death benefits when the drugs causing the overdose are related to the on-the-job injury.

The dangers of these drugs emphasize the need for proper care for on-the-job injuries. Employees must be vigilant in pursuing benefits to avoid self-medicating and employers should be vigilant in educating employees about the dangers. Under the new Pennsylvania law, it is more important than ever for workers to promptly report injuries and, if needed, seek legal help. Immediate effective treatment for seven days for pain with these drugs may be enough to prevent the urge to extend, abuse, or escalate their use.