Many common workplace injuries result in chronic and debilitating pain. Once the broken bone, slipped disc, or soft tissue injury has technically healed, the pain can continue indefinitely. Rather than prescribing ongoing physical therapy, chiropractic care, or assistive medical devices, workers’ compensation physicians often take the easy and less costly way out by prescribing opioid painkillers. This trend of over-prescribing opioids carries several serious risks.
What Are Opioid Painkillers?
In order to fully understand the risks of taking an opioid prescription, it is important to understand how the drugs work. Opioids relieve pain by reducing the intensity of the pain signals reaching the brain. Some people also experience a euphoric response to these medications as this class of drugs also affects the regions of the brain associated with reward and pleasure. Because of this, opioids are highly addictive and users are prone to overdose as they seek to increase the sensation of pleasure and euphoria by taking more than is prescribed or consuming it in ways other than what is intended. Some opioid drugs include the following:
- Hydrocodones such as Vicodin
- Oxycodones such as OxyContin and Percocet
- Meperidines such as Demoral
If your doctor is prescribing any of these medications for your workplace injury recovery, ask for a non-opioid alternative. Other painkillers may not work as effectively, but they will allow you to continue to monitor your recovery and are less likely to have dangerous side-effects.
How Opioids Harm Workers
According to a Washington State Department of Labor and Industries study, workers who received more than a one-week supply of an opioid, or two or more opioid prescriptions, after being injured at work were twice as likely to still be disabled one year after the injury than workers who did not receive opioids. A 2014 study examining 264,000 worker’s comp claims from 25 states found that between 65 and 85 percent of injured workers in most states received a prescription opioid to manage their pain.
Workers who continue to take prescription painkillers after returning to work risk further injury and endanger other workers as opioids can cause drowsiness and confusion. This presents an extreme risk in industries with safety-sensitive work tasks.
Signs of Dependence and Addiction
One of the biggest dangers of prescription opioids is the likelihood of becoming dependent upon or even addicted to the medication. Because the drugs stimulate the brain’s pleasure sensors, the brain, and therefore the user, wants more stimulation. Signs a user has become dependent on a drug include:
- Tolerance. The user finds he needs to take more of the medication to get the same effect.
- Withdrawal. When the medication is stopped abruptly, the user feels physical symptoms of withdrawal.
- Compulsive drug-seeking. When a user goes to extreme lengths to obtain more of the drug, this is a clear sign of addiction.
In worst-case scenarios involving opioids, dependent or addicted users accidentally overdose as they seek the same sensations they experienced early on with the drug. They may take a dangerously high dose or they may shoot an oral medication directly into their veins. Some opioid addicts turn to dangerous street drugs like heroin, as these drugs are more easily obtained and less expensive than prescriptions.
What Should Workers Do?
If you are injured at work and are awarded worker’s comp, be very wary of the medical care you are receiving. Avoid taking prescription opioids if at all possible and insist that your injuries be treated rather than your pain being masked. Ask your doctor to be clear with you about the levels of pain you should expect so that you are not driven to seek stronger pain medications. Do not be coerced into returning to work before your injury has healed. This could lead to a dependence on strong painkillers just to get you through your day.
You May Need an Attorney on Your Side
It’s not often easy to advocate for yourself, even when the stakes are high. An experienced worker’s compensation attorney, however, will go to bat for you to ensure you are awarded the compensation and treatment you deserve. Call us at (888) 348-2616 to find out more about legal representation in your workers’ compensation case.