Continuing Coverage: An Injured Worker’s Story of Pain and Addiction

In Continuing coverage: KX News continues to report on opioids prescribed to injured workers.

The North Dakota Worker’s Compensation Program is funding the narcotics given to injured workers. Burleigh County has the highest prescription rate in the state.

KX News has had several people reach out to tell their story of addiction. Today, we introduce you to Richard Landsberger.

Landsberger was a Case Stacker Operator for Land O’ Lakes Milk. He was first injured in 2005, then again in 2007.

He explains, “I was standing in front of the stacker and the stacks fell out of the stacker, and I grabbed them. And the jaws closed on the stacker and pushed the stack up, and my arm snapped. And it felt like I broke my arm, and I tore the bicep off.”

In 2011, following yet another on the job injury, he started using opioids every day.

Landsberger says, “The surgeon said your shoulders are shot, and he did talk to me about disability in 2011, but I was 51 years old. I can’t do this at 51.”

He was given an FCE, or a Functional Capacity Evaluation. It’s a test for an injured worker who is being treated under a workers compensation claim, and it determines your ability to perform essential work functions.

Landsberger adds, “In 2014 numerous doctors tried to get another FCE, but Workforce Safety just ignored them.”

Landsberger says he was denied multiple exams as his condition got worse, and he injured his back.

In 2018, he was found physically unable to work. Four years after his doctors first began pushing for a new FCE test.

His wife Marie Landsberger claims WSI will help injured workers as long as they can work.

She explains, “They just want to force him back to work, but he doesn’t have anything left.”

When I spoke with the WSI Director in January, he stressed that they do not prescribe opioids, they simply pay for the doctors to do their job.

Since that January interview, WSI has turned down KX News on multiple occasions to speak deeper on the topic.

National and statewide concerns over the opioid epidemic have even led to legislation. House Bill 1063 would have required injured workers to come back to the doctor every week to be reevaluated and re-up their prescription.

The medical community fought hard against the bill, and it narrowly failed.

The North Dakota Medical Association says their concern with the bill is, “…that it flatly denies payment for higher doses, whether or not the prescriber is able to justify the dosage.”

They believe this limit should be worked out by WSI’s case management for individual patients, rather than having a law imposed by the Legislature dictating doctor’s decisions.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, who has made his stance against addiction a priority of his administration, had this to say: “While North Dakota Workforce Safety & Insurance does not prescribe opioids, the Governor is aware of several measures WSI has taken to address opioid usage and is supportive of those efforts, including proposed legislation that unfortunately has not been approved.”

Marie Landsberger says the bill was ridiculous and wouldn’t have helped.

She explains, “To receive your pain medication, WSI makes you go to pain management. I assume the larger areas have their own pain management clinics, but the rural areas do not. Therefore, for everyone to go to pain management every week would be at times impossible, because of weather, being able to drive, or what have you.”

Marie asks Richard, “Do you think you’re addicted?”

Richard replies, “Yeah, I would think I am. My family doctor definitely believes I am for the length of time I’ve been on them.”

During the 2013 North Dakota legislative session, the Department of Human Services was authorized to regulate Opioid Treatment Programs.

Here is a list of facilities that offer treatment covered by the state under the North Dakota Substance Use Disorder Voucher:

 – In Bismarck: Heartview Foundation began serving patients March 8, 2017.

 – In Minot: Community Medical Services began serving patients August 10, 2016.

 – In Fargo: Community Medical Services began serving patients on April 10, 2017.

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