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Fighting opioid addiction through workers' compensation

Many U.S. states are using their workers' compensation programs to help slow the overprescribing of opioid prescriptions for injured workers. In addition, they are also trying to help those workers who are already addicted to the drugs avoid consequences that can include death.

Many workers who are injured on the job are prescribed drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin. According to one worker who was injured in 2004, OxyContin, Percocet and morphine were used to treat his pain and he says that the drugs ruined his life. He was not able to work and therefore could not afford his opioid habit. As a result, he started selling cocaine until he ended up arrested and in jail for two years. He now works as a licensed counselor, helping others who have become addicted and need treatment.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2015, 752,000 public sector workers and 2.8 million private industry workers were injured on the job. Over half of those individuals were unable to work for some time. In 2015, CompPharma says that over $1.5 billion was spent on prescriptions for opioids by insurers for workers' compensation. Those prescriptions accounted for 13 percent of all the opioid prescriptions in the U.S. that year.

The location of the injured workers seemed to influence the rates of longer-term opioid use. For example, in Louisiana, it was one in six. In Pennsylvania, New York and California, it was one in 10 workers. In Missouri and New Jersey, though, it was one in 30. An administrative judge in Massachusetts workers' compensation program said that workers who are addicted to opioids "are people from all walks of life that didn't ask to get injured ... and are now hooked on these drugs."

The workers' compensation board in New York announced last year that insurers can request hearings to determine if an injured claimant should be weaned off of opioids. They called abuse of opioids "a public health crisis."

If you have been injured on the job and feel as though you are addicted to opioid painkillers, speak with your workers' compensation attorney about your options. Opioid addiction is dangerous and treatment for such an issue should be available.

Source: fox25boston.com, "Could workers comp be the key to fighting opioid addiction?," Bob Salsberg, Associated Press, April 10, 2017

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