Prescription Opioid Use a Threat to Worker Safety

The issue of worker safety and opiod use is one that is garnering increased attention, most recently by South Carolina Public Radio. The station details how not only are injured workers taking the prescribed medication at risk for addiction and overdose (as we mentioned in an earlier work injury blog post on a recent National Safety Council report), but also for new injuries when they show up to work impaired by these substances. pills4

A medical adviser for the National Safety Council reported that he altered his career course – form a family doctor in Clyde, N.C. to an addiction specialist after he saw a scourge of prescription opiods and heroin tear down his small town. He stated three-quarters of his patients had lost their jobs. In some cases, they managed to hide the drug abuse for years, but it had an impact on their productivity and brain function.

The biggest concern as far as that goes, he said, was not only the effect on their work and personal relationships, but on their day-to-day safety – and that of their co-workers – for those who worked in safety-sensitive positions. 

“Those driving the forklift or something, their reactions might not be as fast,” the doctor said.

Most workplaces don’t test for prescription painkillers. An analysis for Quest Diagnostics indicated only 13 percent of the 6.5 million workplace drug screens it performs annually test for those substances. And even if those substances are detected, it doesn’t mean the use is illegal. But just because it’s legal – in fact, might have even been prescribed for a previous work injury – doesn’t mean it’s safe.

A survey released by the NSC indicated 4 in 5 Indiana employers answered “Yes” when asked whether they’ve had to confront prescription pain abuse by their workers.

An analysis by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute revealed that when it comes to the amount of narcotics received by the average injured worker between 2010 and 2012, North Carolina ranked No. 6 nationally and S.C. ranked No. 8.

Addiction treatment directors say often, the higher of a professional stature one has, the less likely he or she is to be forced into recovery. This is dangerous too when you consider that corporate executives and those in management positions are in charge of making critical decisions that affect worker safety and can jeopardize the well-being of workers.

One story highlighted by SCPR was that of a former businesswoman who would give two-hour presentations to companies like Xerox – and have no recollection of it whatsoever. She also says the people to whom she was presenting had no idea she was high on Percodan. She recently wrote a book entitled, “Ruby Shoes” about her experiences, as well as the problems many employers face in grappling with prescription drug abuse among both managers and workers.

A 2011 study indicates that workers who are addicted to prescription pain medications are more likely to be sick or absent. They’re late because they can’t find pills and they are going through withdrawal symptoms.

Researchers say in too many cases, prescription-grade opiods are being prescribed for work-related injuries when in fact, pain relievers are more appropriate.

Several court decisions in recent years have held that addiction-related injury, illness and death is compensable under workers’ compensation laws when the medication was originally prescribed for a work-related injury and was being used as directed.

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

Additional Resources:

Opioid Abuse Takes a Toll on Workers and Their Employers, Jan. 20, 2016, By Yuki Noguchi, South Carolina Public Radio

More Blog Entries:

NSC Report Talks Opioid Dangers for Injured Workers, Jan. 25, 2016, South Carolina Work Injury Attorney

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