My Love Of The Law

Can Employers Be Held Liable For The Opioid Addictions Of Injured Workers?

by Alan Medina

You hurt your back while on the job and were prescribed prescription painkillers as a result. Now, you've developed an addiction to the pain medication that was supposed to help you. Worse, what if you're the survivor of someone whose addiction to pain medication following a workplace accident eventually led to death? Can you sue for additional workers' comp benefits related to the addiction or death? 

Possibly. This is what you should know.

Opioid abuse and workers' comp claims are often intertwined.

Back injuries are common injuries for workers - and opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin, Methadone, Vicodin, Fentanyl, and Percocet are increasingly being prescribed for long-term pain from back injuries. Medical guidelines, however, generally advocate a two-week period of usefulness, rather than long-term prescriptions that are refilled month after month.

The end result is that some workers are becoming addicted to the opioid prescriptions over time. Because each state has its own regulatory laws regarding opioid prescriptions, the number of users varies from state to state, but there's been a 300% increase in opioid use between 2002 and 2011 alone, nationwide.

How many of workers end up addicted to the opioid painkillers isn't known - because the situation usually doesn't become apparent until the addiction has caused major problems in the life of the employee.

Employers can be held liable for worker addiction to opioid painkillers.

If you've become addicted to the opioid painkillers that were originally prescribed to treat your back pain, you aren't alone and you have no reason to be ashamed.

The National Safety Council (NSC), which aims to prevent needless injuries and deaths in the U.S., recently issued a report that identified 15 court cases from 2009 to 2015 where an employee sued over addiction to opioid painkillers. The NSC noted that the courts have generally found that addiction or death caused by opioid painkillers prescribed to injured workers is compensable.

That means that you have a very good chance of holding your employer responsible for any additional costs, treatments, and time off work that's necessary to treat your addiction. Survivors of workers who have become addicted and died through the use of opioids may also be entitled to workers' compensation death benefits.

The original workplace injury is what led to the addiction.

Keep in mind that you or the person who died wouldn't have been exposed to long-term opioid use if it hadn't been for the original workplace injury. Employers have attempted to distance themselves from responsibility by abruptly holding "utilization reviews" and cutting off opioid prescriptions that are deemed unnecessary. Unfortunately, that does nothing to treat the addiction that a worker may have already developed.

If you find yourself in a situation where the medication you once relied on to help you heal has now become an addiction, or you're the dependent of someone who died as a result of an opioid addiction developed after a workplace accident, talk to a workers' compensation lawyer today.