We received an email from an injured worker, which we believed is well worth sharing with all as it raises important questions about liability when driving (or having an accident) when under the influence of narcotic, in others words, whilst being legally intoxicated and being forced to work (by the insurer, doctor, employer) and/or by being forced to drive a car to work if no alternative transport is possible.
Workcover, suitable duties and legally intoxicated on medication
The injured worker’s story and question
I had a back injury in [recently] and am off work on compo. I worked up until last month on “suitable duties”.
Early on in the piece I was prescribed Diazepam [Valium] 2 tablets 4 times a day as well as Panadeine Forte.
The treating doctor told me that the only way workcover would let me take time off work is if I was in a hospital bed and I was not that bad so I worked through it for [X] months, sometimes in tears.
One day I was sitting down having smoko and thought back and I could not remember driving to work.
I THINK THIS IS A RHETORICAL QUESTION BECA– USE WORKCOVER WIIL SAY IT WAS MY FAULT I SHOULD HAVE TAKEN PUBLIC TRANSPORT
HELLO THERE IS NO PUBLIC TRANSPORT AND THEY DID NOT OFFER A LIMO OR TAXI
Good question indeed.
As posted under MYTHS, an important factor to consider is the pain medication itself dulls the brain and the injured worker’s ability to fully comprehend what is going on around him.
They are not allowed to drive or operate dangerous machinery – it even says so on the medication boxes and leaflets!!! Do you really want to have this person even answer your phones if they are considered intoxicated under state law? Do you really want me to drive to work like this? Do you really want me to make life and death decision (i.e. when you work as an ICU nurse) like this? Do you really want me to make important executive decisions like this? Or perhaps you’d like me to manage your highest risk project like that? In my example I am taking narcotics and opiates to the point that my pain specialist has prescribed regular ‘anti-tolerance’ treatment with METHADONE break, which is a drug used to replace HEROIN in drug addicts. The regular narcotics and opiates (with special authorisation) I take everyday make me sleepy and drowsy and I need frequent naps during the day. When I have ‘bad’ days, I can’t even sleep from the pain (and I mean NOT sleep, not even 1 hour) – so that makes me an ultra dangerous zombie during the daytime! But my case manager still continues her hot pursuit to find that IME that will certify me “fit for work”. Do they not care about the serious possibility of a second and third and fourth serious injury at work when working in such a state? I mean I am capable of falling of my chair, I have had near-misses where I nearly dropped a kettle full of boiling water over me, and I am at home. At least, when I wheel woozy I can go and lie down, but what if I were at work like this and was forced to stay ‘awake’ all day…
However, from our research, we believe that we – the injured workers – are in fact LIABLE and responsible for our actions. That is, when a medical practitioner or even a pharmacist tells us that we should not be driving a car or operate “machinery” whilst under the influence of certain prescription drugs such as Valium, Endone, Oxycontin etc, then we are responsible for our own actions should we choose to drive a car or operate “machinery” because we have been warned. Most medication packets will also have a warning sticker on them!
So what the injured worker raises here is indeed a good question and that is, who is ultimately liable if we are forced to drive, or operate “machinery” whilst legally intoxicated. Fact is “they” will ultimately blame the injured worker for breaching the medical advice and the warnings.
However, we also believe should you have clear evidence that for example your case manager (insurer) actually repeatedly forces you to drive a car in that state and that you have repeatedly asked for taxi travel (if no public transport is available) and that request is/has been made by your treating doctor, then you may have a civil case in the event you were to have an accident.
In other words, we believe that “liability” or let’s say “duty of care” first of all rests with your treating doctor who prescribes those intoxicating medications. S/he needs to warn you that you can not drive or “operating machinery” (etc) whilst taking those medications and restrictions that apply to work also need to be clearly conveyed (documented on the certificate of capacity) to the employer. Secondly, we also believe that it is up to you, the injured worker, to discuss issues you may have with your treating doctor. Those issues may include problems getting to and from work (i.e. if there is no public transport available or if public transport were contra-indicated for your injury). Your treating doctor can then request your insurer (case manager) you be provided with transport (taxi) to and from work.
On a more personal level, we would like to inform the injured worker who emailed us that there is a much better alternative to Diazepam (Valium) that is actually the drug of choice for back-injuries and other painful muscle spams conditions: it is a drug called BACLOFEN (Clofen). It is similar to diazepam and it is a skeletal muscle relaxant, but the advantage is that it does not make you sleepy and it is non addictive. Talk to your doctor about the possibility to switch to Baclofen!
Driving While On Medicine Causes Accidents
Driving and medicating are not meant to go together. Thanks to all of the past and current education campaigns about that dangers of drinking and driving, people are generally aware that driving while intoxicated is a hazard to themselves and others on the road. However, most do not realize that driving while on prescription medication, over-the-counter medication and/or herbal remedies is just as dangerous.
Driving while on medication is most prevalent in our elderly generation. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that 78% of drivers older than 55 take medications but only 1 in 4 understands how the medication can impair their driving ability.
Similar to alcohol, drugs can cause side effects such as sleepiness, slowed reaction time, blurred vision, dizziness, and inability to focus or pay attention. Worse yet is the combination of drinking, medication and driving. If you have been prescribed new medication by your doctor or are trying new herbal remedies, always ask about the effects that the medication could have on your driving ability.
[post dictated by workcovervictim and manually entered on behalf of workcovervictim]