NSC Report Talks Opioid Dangers for Injured Workers

A recent report from The National Safety Council details how an increasing number of injured workers are being prescribed powerful opioid  pain medications with adverse and sometimes fatal outcomes. pills4

The report indicates that in 2011, one quarter of workers’ compensation drug claim costs were for opioid pain medications for workers who had been injured on-the-job, yet studies show this hasn’t improved treatment outcomes.

In fact, there is evidence to suggest that dosing a worker with more than one week’s worth of opioid medications is associated with a worker being twice as likely to still be disabled one year later. Plus, these drugs often lead to serious harm, including addiction, overdose and death. 

Greenville work injury lawyers know there have been a number of recent court cases in which employees who suffered overdoses and other ill effects from drugs prescribed as a result of their work injuries have been able to have these expenses covered under workers’ compensation. These expenses have included:

  • Detoxification
  • Drug rehabilitation
  • Death benefits to surviving family members

In fact, from January 2008 through March 2015, there were at least 17 appellate state court cases in which the question of workers’ compensation benefits for drug-related injuries were weighed. Courts held that two of those cases were actually personal injury cases, but the rest could be compensated through work injury insurance.

In these situations, in order to be compensable, the worker has to show:

  • Proximate cause. That is, there are legally-recognized facts that support the assertion that in either natural or probable sequence point to the fact that a certain incident resulted in a person’s injury.
  • Chain of causation. That is, whether there is any harm or injury that occurs subsequent to the original injury that is connected to the first. For example, if a worker is hurt on the job and then has to undergo surgery and then dies during that surgery, the chain of causation would say that workers’ compensation death benefits are warranted because he would not have needed surgery but for the original work injury.

There are circumstances, however, in which an independent intervening act breaks that chain of causation, meaning the first injury would likely have continued to heal but for a totally separate and non-work-related incident.

So when we look at drug overdose cases, it’s fairly easy to establish proximate cause and a chain of causation. That is, the worker is hurt on the job, the worker is prescribed powerful medication, the worker overdoses on that medication. Some instances in which that chain of causation might be broken include:

  • Combining alcohol with those medications;
  • Failure to follow the doctor’s instructions;
  • Inappropriate prescribing of the medication;
  • Use of medication to treat some non-related condition.

The existence of these factors won’t necessarily mean a claim isn’t compensable, but it could complicate matters.

There was a case in Washington, for example, in which a worker suffered a workplace injury, took prescribed opiod medications and then drank alcohol. He died of an overdose. Toxicology reports indicated the combination of the medication and alcohol was the cause of death, but neither the levels of alcohol nor the levels of drugs alone were enough to kill him. An appeals court ultimately affirmed an order awarding death benefits to the worker’s widow, finding his use of alcohol didn’t break the chain of causation necessary for the death to be compensable.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

RX Fatal Cure for Injured Workers, 2015, National Safety Council

More Blog Entries:

Breath v. Orthocarolina – Occupational Disease Lawsuit, Jan. 11, 2016, Greenville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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