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Workers comp benefits OK'd for opioid treatment-related death

Workers comp benefits OK'd for opioid treatment-related death

RALEIGH, N.C.—Workers compensation death benefits should be granted to the widow of a US Airways Inc. worker who died from methadone toxicity, the North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled.

In a unanimous decision Tuesday, the appellate court said Curry Shaw's 2008 death stemmed directly from a lower-back injury that he suffered in 2000 while lifting luggage for the airline. Mr. Shaw was prescribed methadone in 2004 to treat his back pain, court records show.

The appellate court opinion upholds a ruling last year from the North Carolina Industrial Commission, which granted death benefits of $550 a week to Mr. Shaw's wife.

In its appeal, US Airways argued that Mr. Shaw's death was caused by a non-work-related fatty liver disease that prevented him from metabolizing increasing dosages of methadone prescribed over several years.

Mr. Shaw's doctor testified to the industrial commission that he did not “abuse or overuse” the prescription opioid, and Ms. Shaw said that her husband was “very careful” about taking his medication, court records show.

In the decision, the appellate court said Mr. Shaw's death is compensable because there was a “direct relationship” between Mr. Shaw's back injury and the prescription that led to his death.

“The toxic build-up of methadone prescribed to manage Curry Shaw's pain resulting from a compensable injury to a reasonable degree contributed to his death,” the ruling reads. “Therefore, defendants' argument that Curry Shaw's death was solely attributable to his liver disease and was in no way the natural consequence of his compensable injury is overruled.”

For in-depth coverage of this topic and related issues, visit our Solution Arc on Opioid Abuse and Workers Compensation: Tackling a Growing Problem.