How opioid painkiller use can impact a workers' compensation claim

Opioid painkiller misuse is now a public health emergency in the United States.

Taking opioid painkillers long term, or in high doses can have a major impact on an injured worker’s recovery and return to work.

"Well-meaning people can fall into this addiction, and into the trap of disability," said SFM Director of Medical Services Ceil Jung. "The drugs can limit your ability to work, and then you get depressed and it's a downward spiral."

Opioid painkiller use tied to delayed return-to-work

Studies have shown that injured workers given high doses of opioid painkillers end up spending significantly more time off work due to their injuries than those who use other types of painkillers or lower dosages.

A 2008 California Workers' Compensation Institute study cited by The New York Times showed that injured workers receiving high doses of opioid painkillers stayed off work three times longer than those with similar injuries taking lower doses.

A Washington State Department of Labor and Industries study cited by the National Safety Council showed that receiving a one-week supply of opioids, or two or more opioid prescriptions soon after an injury, doubles the risk that a worker will still be off work a year after the injury.

When someone becomes addicted to opioids, they develop a tolerance. This means they need higher and higher doses of the drug to get the same effect. As they take more of the drug, they become more sedated and less able to work.

How opioid painkiller use affects workers’ compensation claim costs

In part because of higher lost wages due to delayed return to work, studies have shown that claim costs for injured workers using opioid painkillers are significantly higher, on average, than those with similar injuries who aren't using the drugs.

A Johns Hopkins University study cited by Claims Management magazine showed a nine-fold increase in average claim costs associated with long-acting opioids.

Additional claim costs could also include drug addiction and dependency treatment.

Opioid painkiller use could cause workplace safety risks

Opioids can make you less alert and slower to react.

This means employees using opioid painkillers could pose risk to themselves and coworkers if they work in safety-sensitive situations, such as operating heavy machinery, working at height or driving. This could lead to another workers' compensation claim if an injury occurs.

For more information on opioid painkillers, see our post, Opioids and workers' compensation: Why employers should care.

For educational and prevention-related resources on prescription drug addiction visit drugabuse.gov .

This is not intended to serve as legal advice for individual fact-specific legal cases or as a legal basis for your employment practices.

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