The opioid epidemic in America has been a hot topic in the media lately. The rates of abuse, addiction and overdose are high, particularly among millennials and teens. In just one year, the Midwest alone had a 70 percent rise in overdoses, reveals the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This data brings the issue closer to home.

The numbers are worrying all around, but one demographic that needs more attention is those who are taking opioids due to a workplace injury. How does the system treat injured workers who become addicted to or overdose on their prescription medication?

The role of workers’ comp in addiction and overdose

When you have a severe injury that leads to high levels of chronic pain, you likely receive opioids to alleviate your discomfort. These are controlled substances that come with a high risk of dependence and addiction, especially the longer you use them.

Because you are only taking this medication as a result of the harm you sustained on the job, in essence, the accident bears some responsibility for any opioid abuse that happens. Further, when workers’ compensation ceases to provide you with opioids despite lingering pain, the risk of turning to heroin increases. In fact, most heroin users start out with abusing prescription medicine. 

There is also the risk of overdose. Sometimes it is due to unclear or insufficient usage instructions. Even if dosage and duration directions were explicit, previous court cases have ruled that workers’ compensation benefits still apply in the event of an overdose. The same is true if you mix alcohol or other drugs with your opioids. Of course, each case is unique and does not automatically guarantee a favorable outcome, but precedence shows that it is probable.

Prevention is best

The best course of action is for employers to prevent the situation. One way is ensuring you do not have risk factors that increase the chances of abuse or overdose, such as depression or sleep apnea. You should receive strict monitoring as well, especially when getting off drugs. Another option is to use alternative medications and treatments.