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Painkiller Addiction Plagues Injured Employees

After an on the job injury, many workers are given powerful drugs to manage their pain. Addiction to the opiate drugs they have been prescribed is a growing problem facing victims of work injuries. An addiction to painkillers can make it difficult or even impossible to return to work in a normal capacity. At least one worker's compensation insurance holding company is looking to address the problem and make sure that workers are not pushed from one difficult health situation to another.

The numbers are staggering. Some estimates suggest that up to 85 percent of people receiving worker's compensation benefits are given narcotics to manage their pain. There is no industry oversight to analyze the impact these drugs are having on workers across the nation. The abuse of pain killers comes as no surprise to many workers. They see it on a daily basis to the point that some believe pain killers are a necessary part of doing the job long-term. Part of the program to combat this problem includes peer-to-peer intervention, giving fellow employees a chance to help a worker they know is struggling with addiction.

Too many workers are placed in the cycle of addiction by a workplace injury. A slipped disc or injured neck is treated with opiate-based medication. The worker feels hurried back to work and begins to rely on pain medication to get through the day. The worker becomes dependent on the drugs and what started as a routine injury has turned into a disability that might force the worker out of the workplace altogether.

Employers and worker's compensation insurance providers need to do more to protect their employees. Worker injuries should be eliminated wherever possible. When they do occur, treatment needs to be carefully structured so that the worker gets the medical help and support they need to get back to work in a safe and healthy manner.

Source: EHS Today, "Workers' Comp Woes: Inured Workers and Opiate Addiction," by Laura Walter, 9 February 2012

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