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When opioid issues affect workers' compensation claims

Addiction, drug abuse and overmedication are all complicated problems. When a worker suffers severe injury on the job and then suddenly finds himself dependent on opioid painkillers prescribed to help alleviate his pain, these problems become even more complex. Unlike other individuals who may become dependent on pain medication for various reasons, many workers only come to wrestle these demons after suffering work-related accidents. In then becoming dependent on painkillers, they often find that their workers’ compensation benefits may become jeopardized by the complex situation.

Opioid painkillers can become addictive after a very short period of prescription. However, these painkillers are often a necessary tool in the healing process of certain severe injuries. When various factors like dosage, personal metabolism rates and prescription durations are imbalanced even slightly, injured workers can become addicted to these substances through little or no fault of their own.

Unfortunately, the workers’ compensation system is struggling to adequately balance support for injured workers who require painkillers initially with its own financial stake in paying for the prescriptions these workers are becoming addicted to. Various state systems are attempting to crack down on physicians who overprescribe, to track patients who may be abusing their prescriptions and to employ stricter controls for these medications overall.

These system reforms are not unreasonable. However, some injured workers are finding that they and their benefits are being targeted directly as a result of dependence. These workers require support to wean themselves off these medications. They do not deserve threats, alienation or shame. Work-related accidents led to their dependence and the workers’ compensation system should be supporting their recovery rather than making their situation even more complicated and challenging than it already is.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Opioid Epidemic Plagues Workers' Comp," Denise Johnson and Don Jergler, May 17, 2013

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