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Painkiller addiction is a complex problem among injured workers

There's a growing national problem: opioid addiction. The new face of the opioid addict is probably a familiar one because it's the average American worker -- someone just unlucky enough to get injured on the job.

Many current opioid addicts were prescribed "quick fix" painkillers that got them back to work. The drugs essentially masked the injuries' symptoms -- which meant a true recovery was delayed far longer than necessary because the worker's body wasn't given enough time or therapy to heal naturally.

For many American workers, that meant being on opioids so long that they became addicted. Once they no longer had legitimate prescriptions for their painkillers, many turned to selling drugs themselves in order to feed their habits. Some ended on the street, some ended up in jail. Some died as a result of overdoses.

Some people were even left permanently maimed as a result of their opioid abuse, turning temporary injuries into lifelong disabilities. For example, doctors say that they're seeing more instances of muscle death caused by painkiller abuse. Users take the drugs and end up passed out in the same position so long that blood flow gets cut off, creating compartment syndrome. Muscles die and nerve endings are destroyed as a result.

State legislatures are finally taking notice and many states are changing their policies on workers' comp and opioid prescriptions. Many new laws aim to stop the automatic reliance on opioids and force doctors to be more accountable to their patients. Physical therapy and other treatments that don't involve heavy-duty painkillers are being pushed into place, which will keep workers off the job a little longer in the short term but protect their overall well-being in the long run.

In Massachusetts, there are even voluntary programs available for workers who have settled their claims but are still being treated with opioids. The program can help get workers off painkillers and find alternative treatment methods for real healing.

If you've become addicted to opioids as a result of your workplace injury, talk to your attorney about the possible options for a lawsuit. Remember that you have nothing to be ashamed about -- you may have been given poor medical care that was more concerned about getting you back to work than helping you heal.

Source: US News, "Workers Comp Programs Fight Addiction Among Injured Workers," Bob Salsberg, April 10, 2017

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