Workers in many industries, such as construction, manufacturing, retail, and fast food, suffer workplace injuries that can cause them to experience long-term, debilitating pain. To function in their day-to-day activities and continue to perform their job duties, they may begin using opioids like oxycodone and morphine and other prescription painkillers. However, using these medications can be a dangerous practice, and workers can become addicted to them.

How Opioid Overuse Increases Workers’ Comp Cases

According to the National Safety Council, 23 percent of employees in the workforce have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons and even a regular dose of these drugs can cause a worker to be too impaired to work safely. They can also impact workers’ compensation claims in the following ways:

  • Injured workers who are prescribed even one opioid have average workers’ compensation claim amounts that are four times greater than workers with similar injuries who did not take these painkillers.
  • A worker is twice as likely to be disabled one year after his injury if he takes a week’s supply or more of opioids.

Dangers of Opioid Overuse and Addiction

Opioids are the most common treatment for pain, and it is no wonder it is a problem for workers who are injured on the job due to the nature of their work and their employer’s failure to implement safety measures. The drugs temporarily relieve the pain and anxiety and can numb the body and mind. In high doses, the person can experience a sense of euphoria. Unfortunately, they are highly addictive drugs, and anyone who uses them is at risk of becoming addicted.

A person can display a variety of signs that he suffers with opioid addiction. He may experience all or some of the following:

  • An increased tolerance for the medication and a need for a higher dosageprescription drugs
  • An inability to stop using the drug
  • Withdrawal symptoms if he no longer takes the drug
  • Excessive drowsiness or extreme weight loss or gain
  • Reduced performance at work or at school
  • Stealing prescriptions from family and friends
  • Turning to crime, including stealing drugs from pharmacies

Overuse and overdoses of these powerful painkillers can cause workers’ deaths from overdoses. In addition, opioids can cause the person to suffer serious physical and mental effects, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakened immune system, which can increase the risk of infection, and respiratory problems
  • Insomnia
  • Slower breathing rate
  • Muscle spasms
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Increased risk of infectious diseases, including HIV and hepatitis
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Collapsed blood vessels or veins
  • Increased choking risks
  • Brain damage

Once addicted, it can be extremely difficult for a worker to stop using opioids, and it could lead to heroin addiction, which is often an even cheaper drug that gives many of the same feelings as opioid prescriptions. Often a person withdrawing from opioids may need to be hospitalized. Treatment options can include detoxification, medication, and placement in a treatment facility.

How Employers Can Help Prevent the Overuse of Prescription Painkillers

Employers can take steps to prevent their workers from using and becoming addicted to opioids. One obvious thing employers can do to reduce the use of opioids is to prevent the workplace accidents that cause workers to suffer debilitating pain. They can also take the following measures:

  • Educate workers on the hazards of using opioid drugs at orientation, safety meetings, and trainings.
  • Implement a policy of prohibiting the use of prescription painkillers for non-medical reasons and enforce it.
  • Accommodating workers needing to take pain medication by having less strenuous jobs to place them in.
  • Encourage workers to be their own advocates in requesting safer pain medications when they experience pain after a workplace accident.
  • Have medical staff available to advise workers on non-medical ways to manage their pain.
  • Develop an employee assistance program to help workers addicted to prescription painkillers.
  • Partner with their insurance company and pharmacies to track prescription drug use and intervene when necessary.

If you or a family member suffered an injury and severe pain from a workplace accident, you could be entitled to your lost wages and medical bills from your employer under New Jersey’s workers’ compensation. You could also be entitled to benefits to help you with your overuse of opioids if this is a problem for you. Check out my testimonials and start an online chat today to schedule a free consultation.

Manfred Ricciardelli
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Morristown Workers' Compensation Lawyer