Safety and OSHA News

Can workers’ comp be denied for NOT taking painkillers?

Drug tests showed an injured worker wasn’t taking his prescribed pain-management medication. His former employer argued that should disqualify him from receiving workers’ comp benefits. Did the company win? 

We’ve written several times about concerns that U.S. workers are being prescribed opioids for pain relief too often. This case shows another way over-prescribed opioids can become a problem.

Dan Harper worked for Public Energy Fuel Service Inc. in Hicksville, NY. He received permanent total disability benefits under workers’ comp for a 2002 back injury.

Harper was prescribed the opiate Kadian and had to take urine drug tests to ensure he was taking the medication.

Urine tests revealed he wasn’t taking Kadian on a regular basis, and Public Energy argued he should be disqualified from receiving wage replacement benefits.

Under New York’s Workers’ Compensation Law, when a worker “knowingly makes a false statement” to try to get comp benefits, he can be penalized.

The New York Workers’ Compensation Board heard Harper’s case and discredited his testimony about why he didn’t routinely take the prescribed Kadian.

However, the Board also found there was a lack of evidence that Harper was selling the excess Kadian. Therefore, “the record did not establish that his misrepresentations were made for purposes of obtaining compensation.” The Board refused Public Energy’s request to terminate his comp benefits.

The company appealed, but a three-judge panel of the New York Supreme Court’s appellate division agreed with the Workers’ Compensation Board. “Substantial evidence supports the Board’s determination that a penalty under Workers’ Compensation Law was not warranted,” the court wrote in its recent opinion in the case. Harper will continue to receive permanent total disability benefits for wage replacement.

While the company’s main reason for filing this case was potential workers’ comp fraud, people with prescriptions for opioid painkillers selling the drugs is a concern for another reason – the drugs fall into the hands of people who aren’t under a doctor’s care. It’s not unusual to see provisions such as the one Harper faced to show through drug testing that he was actually taking his prescribed medication.

What do you think about the court’s ruling? Let us know in the comments.

(Harper v. Public Energy Fuel Service Inc., New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, No. 519437, 4/30/15)

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  1. stedman holder says:

    Simple, is he refilling PX regularly? Is he being tested after refilling the PX?

  2. jburzynski says:

    What did the prescription say? Take as needed for pain or was he given a specific schedule to follow?

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