prescription drug use at workWhether an employee has recently returned to work following an on-the-job injury, or is suffering from chronic pain, when he uses prescription pain killers in order to complete his job duties, he may be putting himself and others at risk.

New data from the National Safety Council (NSC) shows that prescription drug use and abuse has a costly effect on employers and workers’ compensation programs across the country. Both employers and employees should be aware of the potential problems caused by prescription drug use to ensure a safer workplace.

Employers’ Understanding of the Prescription Drug Problem

A recent survey of U.S. employers conducted by the NSC found a fairly large disconnect between the awareness of the problem, and a willingness to support employees in dealing with the problem.

According to the survey, more than 70 percent of the employers who responded reported that they suffer a direct impact of prescription drug misuse in the workplace. Some of the effects they reported include the following:

  • Absenteeism or missed work
  • Use of prescription pain killers at work
  • Positive drug tests
  • Impaired or decreased job performance
  • Employee's family member(s) affected
  • Complaints to human resources
  • Negative impact on employee morale
  • Near miss injury or actual injury
  • Borrowing or selling prescription drugs at work
  • Arrests on or off the job
  • Overdose

However, despite these impacts on the workplace, employers are either unwilling or unable to help employees cope with the problem. Although 71 percent of employers agree that prescription drug misuse is a disease that requires treatment, 65 percent also believe it's a justifiable reason to fire an employee.

Ironically, in many cases, it was an on-the-job injury that led to the prescription drug abuse by the worker in the first place.

Taking Painkillers to Return to Work

The risk of serious injury at work is high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were nearly 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries reported by private sector industries in 2015, and over 750,000 such injuries in the public sector. More than half of these injuries resulted in time off work.

In certain industries, such as construction and manufacturing, high rates of injury aren't surprising. However, occupations such as food service, maintenance and custodial work, healthcare, and even office work pose risk to people with chronic injuries. While an injured employee may be able to collect workers’ compensation for medical treatment and time off to recover, he'll eventually be required to return to work in order to keep his job.

Often, the worker is only able to do this by controlling his pain with opioid painkillers. For individuals who become dependent on an addictive painkiller, it becomes impossible to work without the drug, but also dangerous to perform their jobs while on it.

Risks of Performing Job Duties While on Painkillers

For workers suffering from chronic back pain and repetitive use injuries, or recovering from a knee or hip injury, standard painkillers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen are often ineffective.

For serious injuries and chronic pain, doctors often prescribe opioid painkillers such as Vicodin or OxyContin. These narcotic painkillers can cause drowsiness, which makes certain job duties such as operating heavy machinery or working at heights extremely dangerous. Opioids also carry a high risk of dependence, increasing potential dangerous situations for others. A worker who is addicted to painkillers may endanger not only himself but his coworkers by being inattentive, unfocused, and distracted on the job.

What Can Be Done to Solve the Problem

Ultimately, it's up to the injured worker to be careful about the medicine being prescribed for a workplace injury. He or she must ask about the risk of addiction and, if necessary, request more time off to recover rather than stronger painkillers to speed up the return to work. Employers must also be aware of the dangers of certain prescriptions and support workers in their recoveries.

Have You Been Injured On The Job?

If you've been hurt at work on the job in Kansas City you need to speak with an experienced workers' compensation attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Kansas City office directly at 816.471.5111 to schedule your free consultation.