Associated Press | By Bob Salsberg | Monday, April 10, 2017

BOSTON (AP) — Meet a victim of the nation's opioid addiction scourge: the American worker.

A number of U.S. states are taking steps through their workers compensation systems to stem the overprescribing of the powerful painkillers to workers injured on the job, while helping those who became hooked to avoid potentially deadly consequences.

Injured workers, like so many others dealing with pain, are often prescribed opioids like OxyContin and Vicodin.

"I was eating them up like they were candy," said Jimmy Duran, of Boston, who was prescribed opioids for years after hurting his neck and fracturing vertebrae in a workplace accident in 2004. A commercial mover, Duran was hit and thrown 30 feet by a moving truck.

"OxyContin, Percocet, morphine. ... It ruined my life," he said. "It brought me to my knees."

Unable to work, broke and desperate to feed his habit, Duran said he eventually began dealing cocaine to bring in cash, a mistake that landed him in jail for two years. Free of addiction now, he has become a licensed counselor at a substance use prevention and treatment program.

In all, about 2.8 million private industry workers and 752,000 public sector employees suffered nonfatal workplace injuries in 2015, more than half resulting in time away from work, according to the most recent figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to a survey by CompPharma, an industry group that seeks to control workers compensation spending, more than $1.5 billion was spent on opioids by workers compensation insurers in 2015, with prescriptions for injured workers accounting for 13 percent of total opioid pharmacy costs in the U.S. that year. Survey respondents cited opioids and addiction as their most pressing concern.

A separate study of 337,000 workers compensation claims in 25 states published last year by the independent Workers Compensation Research Institute found that 55 to 85 percent of injured workers who missed seven days or more of work received at least one opioid prescription.

Rates of longer-term opioid use varied widely among states, the study found, including 1 in 6 injured workers in Louisiana, and 1 in 10 in California, New York and Pennsylvania, but only 1 in 30 in New Jersey and Missouri.

States oversee workers compensation insurance systems that employers pay into, and that provide medical care and help offset wage losses from on-the-job injuries.

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