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Painkiller addiction and workers 'compensation

Injured workers in New Jersey often receive narcotic or opioid painkillers when they are injured on the job, allowing them to manage their pain and continue to be more productive during their recovery. However, this approach can lead to serious physical and behavioral problems for employees and legal issues for employers. Judges across the nation have ruled in many cases that addiction to prescription painkillers is compensable under workers' compensation laws.

This case law precedent has led the National Safety Council to issue new recommendations for employers to reduce pain medication prescription to injured employees and the associated costs and legal risks. According to the NSC report, 25 percent of all workers' compensation expenses are linked to prescription of painkillers. It also cites addiction and overdose as particularly serious risks among injured workers, more so than in the general population.

The report calls for employers to restrict narcotic painkiller prescription by workers' compensation health care providers. One of the recommended measures would require employers to screen injured workers for a history of depression, addictive behavior and other possible risk factors for dependency or overdose. Another would have employers adopt prescription drug monitoring and testing programs. Finally, the report recommended that employers educate workers about the dangers of prescription addiction and overdose in order to take a more proactive stance in shielding against liability.

An attorney representing a work accident victim may wish to begin the discovery process by studying the employer's policies regarding prescription drug usage in the workplace and whether the employee should have been on medication in the first place. After a determination is made as to who should bear liability, the attorney can assist the client in determining whether to pursue litigation in lieu of filing a workers' compensation claim.

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