Opioid Crisis in the Workers’ Compensation System

More than 130 people in the United States die every day from overdosing on opioids according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) National Vital Statistics System.  According to the CDC, opioid deaths are a leading cause of injury-related death in the United States. Of those deaths, almost 68% involved a prescription or opioid, and California is one of the states with statistically significant increases in drug overdose death rates from 2016 to 2017. This is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare.

It is no secret that workplace injuries are very painful and often require long-term pain management treatment. The Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index tells us that the top four workplace injuries are (1) overexertion from lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, or throwing objects; (2) falls on same level; (3) falls on lower level; and (4) being struck by an object or equipment. Obviously, all of these injuries can result in significant pain that require pain medication and long-term pain management. The CDC tells us that 15% of our nation’s workforce struggles with long-term pain.

According to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (“NCCI”), injured workers in the worker’s compensation system are affected by the nation’s opioid crisis, but even so, the workers’ compensation system is better at fighting this crisis than the general public. This is because the workers’ compensation system is so heavily regulated, including the regular drug testing of injured workers and the Utilization Review process.

Workers with substance use disorder miss 15 days of work per year, on average, according to the CDC, while those with substance use disorder specifically related to opioids miss 29 days of work per year, on average. Additionally, the side effects of opioids include lowered alertness and slow reaction time, so use of significant opioids put workers at higher risk of injury.

For all of these reasons, if you are an injured at the workplace and are being prescribed opioids or other pain medications, you can likely expect to be prescribed pain medications that are reduced in amount and in strength. This is to ensure a safe and effective pain management, while reducing your risk of addiction, possible overdose, and further injury at the workplace.

Here at Ghitterman, Ghitterman & Feld, we represent a number of workers who struggle with opioid addiction and their efforts to be weaned from it.  We can provide assistance to access the care and treatment you need to reduce opioid dependency and return to the workforce.