Prescription Pain Meds: Sweet Relief or a Fatal Cure? Thinkstock

Prescription Pain Meds: Sweet Relief or a Fatal Cure?

A new report from the National Safety Council reveals that injured workers who take opioid prescription painkillers double their risk of being disabled a year later and their lost-time workers’ comp claims are 900 percent higher than those of workers who didn’t take the painkillers.

The National Safety Council (NSC) is calling on employers to develop workplace policies around the use of opioid prescription painkillers after reviewing research and court cases showing the negative impacts of these medicines can have on employee safety and workers’ compensation costs.

Many workers who have taken opioid painkillers following on-the-job injuries have become addicted, suffered additional injuries or fatally overdosed. As a result, courts have ordered employers and worker’s compensation insurance carriers to pay for detoxification, medication-assisted treatment and death benefits to surviving family members.

The findings and synopses of recent court cases are detailed in the council’s new report, Prescription Pain Medications: A Fatal Cure for Injured Workers.

“Employers have a moral and legal responsibility to protect their employees,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Addressing the use and abuse of prescription painkillers is as important as identifying drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace.”

Workers who use opioid painkillers for more than a week to treat on-the-job injuries have double the risk of being disabled one year later, according to researchers, and workers’ compensation claims also skyrocket. The average lost time workers’ compensation claim for workers using opioid painkillers can total as much as $117,000, 900 percent higher than the cost for workers who do not take opioid painkillers.

To help protect injured workers and mitigate liability, the council recommends employers:

  • Educate workers about the risks of opioid painkillers.
  • Work with insurance carriers to identify inappropriate opioid painkiller prescribing and adopt procedures to manage worker’s opioid use.
  • Ensure medical providers follow prescribing guidelines and use state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, which track prescribing history.
  • Provide supervisor education focused on identifying impaired employees.
  • Expand drug-testing programs that include testing for all common opioids.
  • Evaluate employee assistance programs and make sure they include access to treatment.

Employers are also encouraged to download the free Prescription Drug Employer Kit for resources and tips to develop policies and manage opioid use at work.

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