Arkansas Court Affirms Denial of Death Benefits Related to Drug Overdose

An Arkansas appellate court recently affirmed a denial of workers’ compensation death benefits to the surviving beneficiaries of a deceased worker who overdosed on methadone in 2009 while being treated for withdrawal from opiates prescribed for pain resulting from his 2005 compensable injury [Loar v. Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., 2014 Ark. App. 240, 2014 Ark. App. LEXIS 304 (Apr. 23, 2014)]. The Commission had denied benefits on the basis that the decedent was prone to drug addiction; that he intentionally overdosed without suicidal intentions; and that his intentional overdose was an independent intervening cause unconnected with the work. The appellate court held that the record supported those findings.

Evidence suggested that the decedent became addicted to opioid medication prescribed for back pain by at least May 2004, approximately one year before his compensable back injury at work in April 2005. Other evidence indicated that by the the summer of 2009, the decedent obtained and consumed Oxycontin at the average rate of 4.7 pills per day when he was prescribed three pills per day. Decedent had apparently been filling Oxycontin prescriptions from two different doctors and taking almost twice the recommended dose. On September 3, 2009, the decedent went to another, unapproved physician for methadone because it was cheaper than Oxycontin. He had obtained a Methadone prescription that provided that he would take six Methadone pills per day. He died of an acute Methadone intoxication or overdose four days later, having consumed 41 Methadone pills during the four-day period–17 pills in excess of the 24 pills that he should have taken by prescription.

The appellate court agreed that the decedent’s consumption of 17 Methadone pills in excess of his prescription was an independent intervening cause of his death. The court also found specifically, that the decedent’s dependents had failed to establish that his 2009 Methadone overdose was causally related to his 2005 work-related back injury.

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