The overuse of opioids is a widespread issue among the general population but is even more of an issue among injured workers. In 2013, 37 % of drug overdose fatalities occurred due to opioids or in combination with other medications or alcohol. (The combined deaths attributed to a heroin overdose and cocaine overdoses combined is still less than this percentage.)
Several recent court decisions have determined that certain overdoses suffered by injured workers were actually compensable by the workers’ compensation insurer. Both the insurer and employer have been ordered to cover the costs of detoxification and medical-assisted services as well as death benefits paid to the surviving family members.
These court cases have put employers in a difficult situation. They want to take care of their employees, especially those in injury cases. But, obviously, there is a need to protect themselves from being vulnerable to future lawsuits. Even in instances where the opioids were not taken properly by combining with alcohol or by taking too many, the employer was still negligent.
The best solution is a proactive one. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has issued opioid prescribing guidelines to help physicians prescribe more safely.
Some precautions include:
Making sure all workers are educated about the hazards associated with prescription medication use is vital. Ensure all workers are aware of the following:
While it is important for injured workers to know the above, it is beneficial to educate all employees. Many are unaware of the risks associated. Education in combination with the required guidelines set forth by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine is a good first step towards lowering and eliminating opioid-related deaths.