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Employers hit by costs for painkiller abuse by injured workers

The widespread use of prescription opioid painkillers to treat injured workers has created a growing problem for employers in New Jersey and across the country. A study on the subject, published by the National Safety Council, revealed that opioid drugs accounted for over 25 percent of prescription drug costs billed through workers' compensation insurance.

Paying for painkillers only represented one area of cost for employers. Looking at court cases between 2009 and 2015, the council identified 15 lawsuits against employers for the prescribing painkillers to injured workers via their workers' compensation medical providers. When addiction and overdoses resulted from heavy reliance on pain pills to treat workplace injuries, the study found that courts required the employers to compensate the victims.

Recommendations within the council's report sought to enable employers to reduce their exposure to this litigation and prevent addiction and overdose among people who get hurt on the job. Safety suggestions included hiring a pharmacy benefit manager to purchase and monitor pharmaceutical use and educating workers about the hazards of taking opioid painkillers. The council also advised employers to create guidelines for the appropriate use of painkillers after an injury.

As the study indicated, an injured worker faces a high chance of receiving a prescription for opiates within the workers' compensation system. Such a person, however, may not be aware that the insurance could cover other paths including surgery or physical therapy. Workers who are injured on the job have the right to consult with an attorney when making a claim in order to become informed about the full range of workers' compensation benefits that may be available.

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