Are You Abusing Your North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Medications?

July 13, 2011, by Michael A. DeMayo

A new study released by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) has worried many in the North Carolina workers’ compensation community. The report, Interstate Variations in Use of Narcotics, suggests that injured workers often abuse and/or misuse narcotics prescribed to treat workplace injuries. According to a WCRI press release, “In certain states…patients who begin treatment with narcotics are more likely to end up using narcotics on a longer-term bases – California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas.” Louisiana was the worst offender – with a rate of 1 out of 6 injured workers who possibly misuse/abuse narcotics. According to the WCRI, “In a typical state, the figure is 1 out of 20.”

So let’s dig a little deeper here. Why would North Carolina workers’ compensation beneficiaries who need medication for pain fail to follow a doctor’s orders and either take more narcotics than necessary or otherwise abuse prescriptions?

This may seem like a silly and somewhat obvious question to ask. But it’s an important one. Because we need to understand the root causes if we want to figure out how to tackle the problem. A typical answer might be something in effect of “narcotics are addictive.” Or “when everything else is going wrong in your life, narcotics can help make the pain go away.”

But these answers are in many ways unsatisfying.

They suggest that hurt workers are helpless and foolish. They suggest that they don’t understand the implications of abusing or misusing narcotics. These thoughts are insulting to hurt workers. Could there be another explanation that’s somewhat more oblique but also more satisfying. According to a Harvard University psychiatrist, Dr. Lance Dodes, addictions to medications may have psychological origin – as opposed to physiological origin. Dr. Dodes points out that soldiers who fought in Vietnam became addicted to opiates while overseas – physically addicted, that is. They kicked their addictions easily after being removed from the battlefront. This suggests that psychology, as opposed to physiology, should be implicated in at least a certain kind of addiction.

Dr. Dodes proposes that addiction is in essence an empowerment response – when a hurt worker feels frustrated, angry, overwhelmed, or even just irritable about his/her situation, he/she wants to reassert control. Using or abusing medication helps the hurt worker regain a sense of control.

Dr. Dodes’ theory is deep and interesting – it runs counter to the grain of the conventional wisdom about addiction. But it’s an interesting philosophy, and if you or someone you care about has been hurt at work, and you need the help of a North Carolina workers’ compensation law firm to figure out what to do, it might also behoove you to examine Dr. Dodes’ thinking.

More Web Resources:

Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI)

Dodes’ research