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The Opioid Risk for Workers’ Compensation PatientsManaging pain is one of the immediate concerns after a workplace injury. The patient may have intense pain after suffering a traumatic injury or chronic pain from an injury that developed over several years. Physicians sometimes prescribe opioid painkillers as a means of immediate pain relief. However, the public is learning more about the dangers of opioid addiction. Workers’ compensation insurers are taking action against the pharmaceutical companies and physicians who have pushed opioid use, in part because opioid addiction can increase the cost of workers’ compensation. For instance, an Illinois workers’ compensation insurance organization has filed a lawsuit against the makers and distributors of opioids, alleging that they are responsible for an increase in opioid addictions amongst claimants. Injured workers must be careful when using opioids during their injury recovery and should consider alternative methods of pain relief.

Dangers of Opioids

Opioid painkillers are safest when used for a short period. Patients who take opioids for a prolonged period can develop a dependence or addiction to the drug. How quickly the dependence develops depends on the patient and whether they take more than is recommended. Studies suggest that some patients can become dependent in a matter of days. People with opioid addictions may crave increased doses of the drug as their bodies become resistant to it. This increases the risk of overdose and death.

Effect on Workers’ Compensation

According to the National Safety Council, workers who received opioids for more than a week or had more than one opioid prescription are more likely to be on disability a year later. Workers who become dependent on opioids also:

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Receiving Workers’ Compensation for Carpal Tunnel SyndromeCarpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in the hand and arm that is often characterized by pain, tingling, or numbness. The cause is pressure applied to the median nerve, which runs down the arm, through the carpal tunnel in the wrist and into the hand. The carpal tunnel can narrow over time, or the nearby flexor tendons may swell – either of which can apply pressure to the nerve. If not caught early, carpal tunnel syndrome may cause you to lose function in your hand or require surgery to relieve pressure. You may be able to receive workers’ compensation benefits if you can show that your work caused your condition.

Causes

It is possible for a single incident to cause carpal tunnel syndrome, such as your wrist or hand being crushed in an accident. However, carpal tunnel syndrome is most often a repetitive trauma injury caused by:

  • Repetitive hand or wrist motions; or
  • Flexing the hand or wrist in a position that puts pressure on it.

Heredity may also play a role if you were born with a smaller carpal tunnel or develop conditions such as arthritis or diabetes.

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Can Workers’ Compensation Cover Cosmetic Surgery?Workers’ compensation benefits are meant to pay for medical treatment for your work-related injury. When a claim is filed, insurance companies often argue with workers about whether injuries are related to the work incident and whether the treatment is necessary for recovery. Cosmetic surgery is a gray area in workers’ compensation that may not seem like it would fall in the category of necessary treatment. However, a scar from an injury can degrade your quality of life, making corrective treatment appropriate as a workers’ compensation expense.

Disfigurement

An injury or a related medical procedure can leave a permanent visible mark, known as a disfigurement. In terms of workers’ compensation law, disfigurement is cosmetic damage to the body that does not affect your ability to perform your work. Visible scars and lost teeth are common examples of disfigurement. Insurers often argue against paying for corrective surgery on a disfigurement because they believe it goes beyond the treatment that is necessary to physically function. However, a disfigurement can affect your quality of life and, by extension, your work performance:

  • Scars on normally visible places of the body can cause embarrassment and distress; and
  • A scar may cause pain or itching, which a cosmetic surgery could fix.

Receiving Compensation

It may take several months after your injury to determine whether you have a disfigurement. Surgery may leave a scar, and you need time to see whether your scar will heal. Whether your disfigurement qualifies for workers’ compensation benefits and how much you receive depends on the size and location of the disfigurement. Surgery to correct a small scar may not be covered, but an arbitrator or the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission may award you additional compensation for cosmetic surgery if you have a noticeable scar on your:

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Receiving Workers’ Compensation for Mental TraumaThe injuries you receive at work can go beyond what can be physically diagnosed. Sometimes, an incident at work can be traumatic enough that it causes a mental disorder, such as depression or anxiety. A mental health professional can diagnose your mental disorder and state whether the work incident likely caused the disorder. Illinois law allows you to receive workers’ compensation benefits if you can prove the correlation between the work incident and your mental health. You can use a “mental-physical” claim or “mental-mental” claim.

Mental-Physical

A mental-physical claim is when a physical incident at work caused trauma that led to your mental condition. This can easily happen when you suffer a traumatic injury in the process of your normal work duties. A factory worker who was severely injured while using machinery may feel anxious about returning to work. The worker could be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder if he or she suffers panic attacks due to that anxiety.

Seemingly minor injuries can also create mental trauma depending on the nature of the incident. For instance, someone sexually assaulted by a supervisor may suffer bruises that do not require medical treatment. However, being assaulted at work is traumatic and would understandably cause the victim anxiety about returning to the workplace. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission has awarded benefits in such a scenario.

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Work Injuries Can Extend Beyond Normal Working HoursInjuries that are covered by workers’ compensation insurance extend beyond what many employees realize. For instance, you may believe that you needed to be working “on the clock” for an injury to be work-related. Your employer’s responsibility for your health can continue even after your official work hours. The workers’ compensation insurance provider will likely contest any injury claim that occurs outside of your paid hours or the workplace. This should not discourage you from filing for workers’ compensation benefits.

Qualifying for Benefits

Job requirements can dictate your actions beyond your documented working hours. Many employees are required or compelled to take their work home with them or perform work-related tasks after work. Even the requirement to travel to and from a work site can potentially expose you to danger. When wondering whether an injury is work-related, you should ask:

  • Was I performing a task that was required as part of my job?;
  • Was my employer benefitting from my actions?;
  • Was my employer aware or could my employer have been expected to be aware that I was at a work site during my free time?;
  • Does my employer own or maintain the property where the injury occurred?; and
  • Would I have been in the situation that caused my injury if not for my work?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, it is worth exploring whether your injury would qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.

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