At this point, almost everyone has heard of opioids. People understand these can be strong painkillers, but they have a dangerous potential side effect: addiction. Workers are no exception to this risk, and they may be at an even greater risk because of the amount of opioids prescribed during workers’ compensation situations. If you were hurt at work, you may be automatically prescribed opioids for your pain. However, this may not be the best course of action for you to get back to work. Fortunately, it looks as if opioid prescriptions during workers’ compensation claims are falling in multiple states, including Georgia. If you have questions regarding your workers’ compensation situation, contact the Augusta workers’ compensation lawyers of Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of pain relieving drugs often used for moderate-to-severe pain and chronic pain from health conditions. These drugs block the pain signals to the brain and can produce a pleasurable feeling. Well-known opioids are morphine, codeine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), fentanyl, and oxycodone (OxyContin), and methadone. These are all related to heroin.
While opioids can be highly effective, they are also very addictive. People who are prescribed opioids for long-term use or at high dosage often struggle with addiction to these medications, which can lead to physical, emotional, and mental problems.
Opioid Abuse in the U.S.
The number of people addicted to opioids in the U.S. has reached such a height that health organizations are calling it an epidemic. It is also highly related to heroin addiction, making it an even bigger public health problem. At this point, it is difficult to discuss opioid abuse without also confronting heroin use, even for workers.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 1.9 million people who had a substance abuse disorder used prescription pain relievers in 2014 and 586,000 used heroin that year. About 23 percent of people who use heroin end up abusing opioids. Conversely, four in five new heroin users previously abused prescription painkillers and moved to heroin because it was cheaper and easier to get than opioids.
Both prescription opioids and heroin use are leading to a massive substance abuse issue in the U.S. and a rising overdose rate. The ASAM reported there were 18,893 opioid-related deadly overdoses and 10,574 heroin-related overdoses in 2014.
Workers’ Compensation Research Institute Opioid Study
The WCRI has looked at opioid prescriptions during workers’ compensation situations in 25 states, including Georgia, for years and recently updated its study to include data through March 2014. The organization looked at information for 337,424 nonsurgical workers’ compensation claims for injuries sustained between October 1, 2009 and September 30, 2012. Workers in the study lost at least seven days of work and received at least one prescription for pain medication under their workers’ compensation claim.
There were 1.9 million paid prescriptions for pain meds of the opioid and nonopioid variety up between March 2012 and March 2014. The WCRI found opioid use was common in nonsurgical workers’ compensation claims, prescribed at a rate between 65 to 80 percent during the 2012 to 2014 time period. However, during this time Georgia saw a significant decrease in the use of opioids, between 10 to 20 percent.
The reason for seeing a decline in opioid prescriptions for worker injuries may come from new laws, community initiatives, and physicians’ recognition of the growing opioid abuse epidemic in the U.S.
Opioids May be Bad for a Worker’s Recovery
It is good news to hear opioid prescriptions for workers are decreasing because using opioids for some injuries can make it more difficult to recover, The National Safety Council reported. A study conducted by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries found a one-week prescription of opioids of two or more opioid prescriptions quickly following a worker’s injury doubles the worker’s chances of being disabled one year after the injury compared to workers who were never prescribed opioids.
Workers with lower back pain are particularly in danger of early and prolonged use of opioids, a study by the Center for Disability Research at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety found. The study conducted in 2007 found workers who were prescribed opioids within 15 days of their injury were disabled an average of 69 days longer than patients who did not use opioids. Extended use of the pain relievers made workers three times more likely to need surgery, six times more likely to become dependent, and lengthened the duration of disability.
Not only can the opioid stand in the way of a worker recovering and going back to work, but a worker prescribed these painkillers for months runs the risk of becoming dependent on them. Long-term use can also lead to an escalating tolerance, meaning a worker needs a higher dosage throughout the day to remain pain free. Tolerance and dependence can make it difficult to physically recover and get back on track at work.
Georgia Workers’ Compensation
If you were hurt on the job in Georgia and your employer has at least three part- or full-time workers, then you can file a claim for workers’ compensation. This enables you to receive medical care for your injury right away, paid for by your work. Not only will your medical costs be paid for, but you may be eligible to receive weekly payments while you are away from work.
The workers’ compensation system may seem straightforward at first, but you can run into a number of obstacles when you first file a claim and throughout your recovery. If you were prescribed opioids and you are taking longer to get better and back to work, you may face an issue continuing to receive benefits or being laid off.
If any trouble arises, contact a determined Augusta, GA workers’ compensation attorney immediately. It can be hard to understand your rights during a workers’ compensation situation. The lawyers at Ted A. Greve & Associates, P.A. will explain your rights and how they can best fight to protect them. Call or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.