Work Injuries and the Opioid Crisis

W. Bradley Parker
Protecting the rights of North Texas personal injury victims since 1985.

More Americans now die every year from drug overdoses than in motor vehicle crashes according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The crisis is taking an especially devastating toll on the U.S. workforce. More cases of opioid addiction occur in industries with high injury rates and physically demanding working conditions such as construction. While opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief they are often misused.

Brad Parker says, “Doctors have a duty to protect their patients. If they are refilling pain medication prescriptions too frequently, providing painkillers when not necessary or ignoring obvious signs of addiction, they can and should be held liable.”

Signs of Opioid Abuse

Employers need to be aware of the signs and symptoms associated with opioid addiction. Here’s what to keep an eye out for:

  • Change in weight
  • Change in appetite
  • Altered appearance, such as poor grooming
  • Altered speech pattern
  • Decline in work performance
  • Increase in accidents on the job site
  • Unexplained changes in attitude
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Lack of motivation

Adding Insult to Injury

High doses of prescription opioids affect both the employee and employer when taken over an extended period time. These are some of the negative effects:

  • Delayed Return to Work

Injured workers receiving high doses of opioid painkillers stay off work three times longer than those with similar injuries taking lower doses. The longer a recovering employee is away from work, the higher the cost for the employer.

  • Compromised Safety to Employees

Opioids cause a person to have slower reaction times and be less alert. This is especially dangerous in jobs involving heavy machinery or requiring work on ladders or scaffolding. Employees taking opioid painkillers could put themselves and their coworkers at risk when working from higher elevations or driving a company vehicle.

  • Lower Productivity and Greater Absenteeism

According to the CDC, workers with a substance use disorder miss an average of nearly 15 workdays per year. Those with a pain-medication use disorder miss an average of 29 days a year.

How Employers Can Combat the Opioid Problem

Drug-Free workplace programs help employers keep their employees safe. Brad says, “The No. 1 way for employers to protect themselves is to set in place clear safety regulations and programs and then enforce them strictly.” An effective program should consist of these four components:

  1. Clear Policy in Writing

Unlike blood alcohol levels, proving an objective measure of unsafe impairment is difficult. Consult with your company’s legal team to ensure that all federal and state-specific guidelines are reflected in your policy.

  1. Employee Education

Employers should address several areas when sharing information with employees about opioid medications. Employees should feel that they can discuss their concerns about taking an opioid painkiller as soon as a prescriber recommends it.

  1. Employee Assistance Program

It is in an employer’s best interest to identify opioid abuse and to support confidential access to treatment. Opioid use causes biochemical changes in the brain, which makes addiction challenging to overcome. Recovery may require long-term treatment with medications and ongoing aftercare. Employer support helps.

  1. Drug Testing

Drug tests can be invaluable tools for preventing drug-related incidents and reducing risk. A drug-testing program curbs drug abuse because it instills a fear of getting caught, the possibility of consequences and the severity of those consequences.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse after a work-related injury, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website here for more information on how to get help.


At Parker Law Firm, our experienced personal injury lawyers believe people matter. We are committed to our clients, not case numbers, and we believe in the power of the civil justice system. With years spent both representing accident victims and participating in the state legislative process, our founder, Brad Parker, has developed a deep understanding of the law and gained unique experience that helps him get results for his clients.

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