Safety and OSHA News

Should workers’ comp pay for medical marijuana?

A man who almost lost his arm in a workplace incident says he’d rather take medical marijuana for the pain instead of strong prescription painkillers. He also wants workers’ comp to pay for it. Should a hearing board grant his request?

In October 2009, Danny Auger of Orillia, Ontario, Canada, was working alone on a house renovation when his sleeve got caught in a miter saw. His left arm was almost sawed off, left attached by just 0.2 inches of skin. Auger had to carry his own arm while he went from house to house looking for help.

His arm was reattached, but he lost three inches of it. He has only partial use of the arm with no fine motor skills.

And there’s the pain from nerve damage, which is chronic.

Auger didn’t want to use strong painkillers after having his arm reattached because he got addicted to Oxycontin when he had knee surgery ten years earlier.

But he didn’t have any choice when he was released from the hospital. He was given prescriptions for Oxycontin, Percocet and Ganapehin for pain, which were covered by workers’ comp.

Six months after returning home he stopped using all the prescription painkillers, gradually reducing the dosage.

However, he replaced them with medical marijuana, for which he had a license from the Canadian government that was supported by a doctor.

Auger wants his medical marijuana covered through workers’ comp. So far, the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) has denied his request.

It’s not cheap

Auger’s license is for 20 grams a day, but he only uses 28 grams a week. Why? The cost.

His workers’ comp benefits pay him $882 every two weeks. The 28 grams of marijuana costs up to $300 a week.

In other words, it uses one-third of his income. That’s why he wants the workers’ comp coverage for it.

No word on how this would compare to the cost of prescription painkillers for Auger.

The WSIB has a policy that it won’t reimburse the costs of obtaining medical marijuana.

However, the tribunal that hears appeals from WSIB cases has often ordered the board to pay because patients have received official access. While that would seem to set a precedent, it hasn’t. Each case involving workers’ comp coverage for medical marijuana is heard separately and not based on previous decisions.

A paralegal working with Auger expects him to get a favorable decision from the appeals board.

Do you think medical marijuana should be available as a pain management alternative and covered by workers’ comp? You can give your opinion in the comments box below.

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  1. I think so. The presciption painkillers are manmade and addictive. Medical marijuana is a plant that is not manmade. It may be grown by man but not formed from different chemicals like the other. I would prefer the natural painkiller also. And for those who are wondering, I do not smoke marijuana.

  2. Yes

    Medical marijuana has been proven effective for cancer and other medical situations from pain control up to and including increasing a person’s appetite and reversing nausea from medical treatments.

  3. If it’s legal and prescribed by a doctor! PAY FOR IT!!!!

  4. Yes, I am not a fan of weed but I applaude this man for recognizing he has a history of pain killer addiction and he is seeking an alternative solution. Interesting that comparitive costs came was mentioned but what about social function. Wacked out on painkillers would most likely inhibit a person from many social or motor functions in society.

  5. If the country/state has legalized medical marijuana and a REAL doctor is stating that it is the solution to his chronic pain, then yes I think work comp should pay for it. If a doctor is not saying at this time it’s the solution and the worker just wants to use it because it’s his preference then I say no.

  6. I agree that it should be covered. People suffer from many illness that already use medical marijuana….cancer, crohns, extreme pain, etc… This plant is grown from God’s earth and has been used since the early 1800. The government needs to stop playing doctor unless they also have a degree in medicine to prescribe what the patient actually requires for their illness.

  7. I think that we need to look at this like anything else. If the pain killers are more economically viable, which the article seems to indicate, then no, W/C should not pay for it. Think about it this way – do I get the generic or do I get the brand name? With my insurance, if I want the brand name – I have to pay for it. Sorry Danny – pain killers are the better economic choice, after all the government is paying for it and either way, addiction is a potential side effect. If the costs were balanced – my answer would be different.

  8. Editor’s note: The pot may be more or less expensive or just about the same as the prescription meds. Given what has been reported about this case, we don’t know that. Just want to be clear about that. As the article states, “No word on how this would compare to the cost of prescription painkillers for Auger.”

  9. I think yes.
    Truth is anything can be addictive, but marijuana has far less health risks with addiction and can be easier to quit. Marijuana is quickly becoming nothing of a problem compared to these pills that give people harsh withdraw effects.

  10. DMac The difference is, if addicted to man made drugs there is a great chance of overdosing and death. I have never heard of anyone overdosing on marijuana.

  11. Thanks for pointing that out, I missed that line of text, If one reads the bottom paragraph it seems to say there is a cost issue, although having taken painkillers for a lower back issue, I have never spent more than $100.00 at the pharmacy. If all things are equal in cost, the worker should be able to choose his medicine, whether it is marijuana or pain killers. Personally, I feel marijuana should be legalized and regulated just the same as alcohol – but that is another debate.

  12. Since the treatment is doctor prescribed, I believe W/C should pay. And for those that are concerned about a cost impact; perhaps they could pay for the cost of the standard narcotics and the patient could pay the difference.
    What amazes me is that they painkillers are every bit as much as a narcotic as the marijuana… perhaps more addictive. Why the discrimination?

  13. Good Point Willy. Read my response to Fred’s post just prior. IF COSTS ARE COMPARABLE, MEDICAL MARIJUANA WOULD BE THE BEST CHOICE…It is not about being against Marijuana – my problem would be with a person asking the state to pay for a Porsche, when a Honda serves the same purpose….

  14. I agree it should be covered, if the marijuana helps him function better than the oxycodone of course he should get it covered. It is probably a safer drug in the long run anyway. I doubt it is a money issue with SAIF, it is just marijuana is on the prohibition list in this era.

  15. Because this is in Canada, it is hard to say. If it was in the U.S., I would say no, because it still violates federal law to possess or ingest marijauna, and so cannot legally be purchased in the U.S., even if your doctor and your state say you can. Painkillers are legally controlled substances, and therefore are legally obtainable. This is under current U.S. law. Also, the man is told he can smoke 20 grams a day? In the 90’s a $40 bag (known as “an eighth”) was 3.5 grams if you had a generous dealer. So he is authorized to smoke $229 in “painkiller” every day and w/c should support that? He smokes an ounce a week and w/c should pay for that? That’s more than just relief. That’s more than just smoking in place of an oxy every 6 hours. The guy abuses painkillers, but not weed? Not likely.

  16. I am not against the many benefits that marijuana has been able to provide over the years. But how can you ask a government agency to pay for something that is considered illegal on a federall level?

  17. Mr Kin, although he’s allocated 20 grams a day, the article states he only uses 28 grams a week. So at least he isn’t taking advantage of his WC benefits. Also, whoever was buying an eighth of marijuana for $40.00 must have been desperate for the drug, because that’s double what the average cost around here was at that time.
    Also, if the federal government allows different states to have different laws in their WC system, why does the federal government need to get involved in this anyway? Some states still allow limited recreational marijuana use and others allow medical marijuana.
    Why must this guy be forced to take drugs that hurt him when there something natural he could have that will not?

  18. This guy lives in Canada, I don’t know the legality of medical mary in Canada. However, if it is legal, like it is here in many states – there is no difference between it an oxy, both are addictive, both have secondary side effects. I have never used marijuana, so I am using Mr. Kim’s description of the amount. 20 grams a day seems to be almost continuous smoking of pot. Does Lung Cancer enter the conversation? What about the safety aspect of driving while stoned to pick up his prescription, oh forgot, WC will take care of that…. Sounds like a Cheech and Chong movie to me. Yo Dude…it’s free, man…smooth, man!

  19. There is a difference between marijuana and OXY. Marijuana is natural and you cannot OD on it like all the man made drugs that are mixed with different kinds of chemicals. Marijuana has never been proven to cause Lung Cancer. People who do not know about marijuana should read about it’s true identity.
    Just a suggestion. 🙂

  20. People won’t OD on medications when they follow the Dr.s recomended doses. An addict is an addict, born and wired that way. They have a tendency to self medicate and that is when trouble starts. How is it fair for workmans comp to pay for marijuana for him today and deny benefits to the person who got hurt at work and tested positive for marijuana in a post accident UA yesterday? The person had a medical card and wasn’t stoned at work but that doesn’t matter. To me it would make sense for the government to spend some of our hard earned money that they take from us and develope a test that would differintiate between someone who is under the infleunce of marijuana at any given time and the person who smoked a little last night for medical purposes. If and when that would happen, legalize it and start utilizing it’s benefits in the medical field.

  21. Willy

    Your right……..I have personnel experience when my better half had extreme lung damage as well as osteoporosis, arthritis and other severe painful problems from chemical exposures at work. I saw what the narcotic pain meds did when taken as prescribed for long periods of time. With some injuries and or illnesses pain is a major factor that has to be dealt with. For many the pain it will not go away or reduce nor can it be handled easily. Pain in itself can cause many really bad side effects from depression on.

    I saw for myself that MM was one of the few things that provided substantial pain control without many of the nasty side effects of narcotic pain medications. Some of those side effects are that they can kill a person’s appetite and interfere with sleep. Some cancer treatments make food taste awful and the person cannot take in food I watched as my dad had this effect from his cancer treatments for colon, brain and lung cancer. At that time (1990) MM was not available but when it was I saw directly that it can restore appetites and help the person have a comfortable sleep. Both sleep and nourishment are essential to help folk with intense lasting medical problems.

    To me it seems that MM is the lesser of two evils when it comes to treatments for a lot of medical problems. In this man’s case he is just trying to have a level quality of life at the same time not fall into what is a major problem for him. He should be commended and supported in his decision (I do not mean he should have all his bills and everything taken care of but supported in making a good decision).

  22. Hey Joe, Post the web sight or tell us where you read that an addict is born an addict. I’d like to read up on that research.

  23. WOW!!!!


    I also would like to see that data

  24. Willy,

    Even though this gets way off topic I will gladly point you in the right direction. Let your research begin with the Big Book from Alcoholics Anonymous. It was first published back in 1939 and is still to this day the bases for so many types of recovery programs world-wide. If you do a thorough job with your research you will also find out that people can be addicted to many other things than drugs. And you my friend, are addicted to debate. Happy Research and I hope you emerge on the other side with a whole new wealth of knowledge.

  25. Thanks Joe, I will check it out. Also, I may seem to be addicted to debate but I wasn’t born with that addiction.

  26. Willy,

    Of course you weren’t born addicted to debate. And not all addictions are bad either. But there is a common denominator shared by those of us with addictive behaviors. If your research hasn’t turned it up yet, it will. As I said before this is off topic so untill next topic take care.

    And I know that I don’t have much room to talk as I keep responding back to you. 🙂

  27. Hello
    We live in Ontario Canada, Like the gentleman in the article my husband has chronic pain. He is on a cocktail of prescription medications Oxyneo ($267.46) celebrex (139.99) Lyrica (925.82) (Cymbalta(129.26) Cyclobenzaprine (17.39) Tylenol#3 (13.44) just for the pain which is not controlled, then there is the Medication for the side effects high blood pressure, water retention, insomnia moodiness bad tastes and the list goes on. Look up the side effects on these drugs unbelievable, then compare to MM. Those cost are monthly,yea the cost is way less for the MM but WSIB would rather pay for that and kill him. All my research has indicated that he is less likely to be addicted to MM then Oxy. He is not the addictive type.
    So YES WSIB should pay for his MM and get him off this chemical poison they have him on as I want my husband around to dance with me at our grand daughters wedding.
    Hope that the cost comparison help.

  28. Mary

    I have had similar experiences with drugs for someone and I got what was needed any way I could. It I cannot even explain how horrific it is to see someone you love in pain.

    Mine died in 2007 after 34 years I wish you only the best and hope you get what many of us know is a good alternative to what you said.

    You have my prayers

  29. Mary…your narrative makes sense and is spot on. My original thoughts were to the words written in the artical. The perspective of Mr. Hosiers article indicates one drug as compared to another. I believe the WSIB/WC Boards should take into account many things when rendering a decision on matters such as these. Realizing they are making rulings that affect several entities (Buisness, Government, and the injured employee). As such, there should be some thought as to costs to each of these before reaching verdict once it is determined the claim is valid. If their analysis shows that MM is the best choice based upon a number of factors (relief for the worker, cost, and availability, etc.) then make the decision.

  30. Mary, so sorry to hear what your going through. You also alecfinn. Experts already stated that MM is the best alternative. It’s the selfish government holding things up. They’re afraid they won’t get as much as a payoff from all these drug companies who are making all these chemical poisons if MM is accepted everywhere. It’s just like the doctors who will not refer anyone to a chiropractor in fear of losing their monies, even though chiropractic care has been proven the safest care you can have. It’s not just for back care alone. Oops, I’m getting way off the subject. Sorry everyone.

  31. The article states 28 grams per week, not day.

  32. Jules, Jules, Jules, The article states his doctor allocates 20 grams a day but he only uses 28 grams a week. So he is actually able to use 140 grams a week if he wanted.

    Joe, After further research, I found you are only born an addict if you are carried to term from a woman who’s an addict that continues to use thru-out her pregnancy. I found nothing in the Big Book stating what you claim it states.

  33. This article has been interesting. I am now moving on. 🙂

  34. Willy, I wasn’t trying to imply that he was born addicted to drugs, rather that he was born with an addictive personality, the common denominator I was referring to, which fuels the addict. Reread chapter 5. Expand your research also and google addictive personality disorders. As with all subjects there are two sides of the fence to stand on. I am no Dr. or scientest just basing my beliefs on my understandings of what I have read.

  35. The article talks about the benefits of MM vrs narcotics antidepressants and other establishment approved ways of treating someone with chronic pain.

    After there was a supply of MM in my house there had to be a detox from all the other pain control medications. And detox is not pretty or easy for someone who is healthy but for someone who is dying is almost unbearable to watch. It was only that person determination that kept me from issuing narcotics between the tremors convulsions vomiting hot spells cold spells et all it was awful to watch and still continue to support the effort.

    However after the week it took to do that MM and Percocet took care of the major problems and the morphine cymbalta oxycodone hydrocodone the antiinflamitories Gee I do not even remember all of pain meds that were to treat symptoms the meds included things for mood appetite sleeping pain all improved on the reduced meds. AND it was cheaper than all the others for pain management. It also reduced the total medications from 37 several times a day to 26.

    I see no downside to MM or for the folk that can use it and I believe it is a valid resource that needs to be there to help folk.

  36. Ducky88 says:

    I am 24 years old I have been on pain killers for over 5 year since i was 19 really want to try and get off of them my doctors said we should try medical cannabis but I can’t afford to get the medical cannabis i am unable to work and workmen’s comp won’t cover it my state is talking about how the pain killers are very addictive and we have a high rate of over dose but they make it impossible to have a alternative I really don’t like taking the pain killers and my doctors have said ill always be in pain I don’t want be on the pain killers the rest of my life we need to find a way to help people in need of pain management I understand its cheaper for them to pay for the pain killers but its more harmful for long term use please help find a alternative way to cover the cost for people who need it but can’t afford it

  37. Joh Bensing says:

    I believe if its called medical cannabis. The insurance companies/workers comp should have to pay for medical cannabis. If not, why call it medical then. We live in a backward county, Everything our government says is backward. Just reverse everything they say and the news tell u and u hav the real truth. Welcome to the Divided States of American where ever state,county and city have different laws. How’s that United, divid we will fall. Criminals run are county. Democrats or republican both equal criminals. How do u think the mafia got started. I’ll tell you. Politicians/government there all shady. Cuba proved it. They kicked the us dea out of Cuba because our government wanted more money to let drugs into the usa. Great job our government did…. try to buy and control cocaine and poppy seeds. I love my county but fear my government.

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