Risk of Opioid Use to Injured Workers

Written by Ankin Law Office

It is common for doctors to prescribe opioid pain medications to treat injured workers. According to a Workers Compensation Drug Study conducted by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), there has been a steady increase in workers’ compensation prescription drug claims for opioid medications. The NCCI reported that opioid prescriptions are responsible for 25 percent of all drug costs. In 2012 alone, employers and insurers paid $1.4 billion for opioids for injured workers who have made workers’ compensation claims.

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Increased opioid use is dangerous for injured workers. According to the NCCI, “the longer injured workers use opioids, the greater the chance is they could become addicted and the longer they may be away from work.”

What is Considered an Opioid?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) has defined opioids as pain-killing “medications that relieve pain by reducing the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain.” While these drugs may relieve pain, they do not heal injuries or provide long-term relief. Patients who take this type of medication are at high-risk of becoming addicted. The most common opioid prescribed for workers’ compensation patients is OxyContin.

If a patient does not get relief from their initial prescription, his doctor may increase the dosage or switch to a stronger medication. As stronger painkillers are introduced to the market, the danger of addiction and overdose continues to increase. For example, Zohydro ER is a new opioid that has been approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration and is five to 10 times stronger than Vicodin. A patient may overdose by just taking two pills of Zohydro.

Workers’ Long Term Dependence and Addiction

Research by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has found that 42 percent of workers who have suffered back injuries received opioid prescriptions on their first medical visit. One year later, 16 percent were still taking opioids.

  • During 2011, emergency room visits increased to 1.4 million, which was an increase of 114 percent.
  • 16,235 people died from prescription opioid overdoses in 2013.
  • Deaths from prescription opioids exceed deaths from cocaine and heroin combined.

Effect on Workers’ Compensation Law

Workers’ addictions and overdoses have had an effect on workers’ compensation law. Chicago workers’ compensation lawyers may be able to seek compensation for their clients who require detoxification or treatment for opioid addiction. In the case of overdose resulting in death, workers’ families may be eligible to receive death benefits.

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