Opioids, or the powerful painkillers often prescribed by doctors for patients who’ve suffered injuries, have become a major cause for concern in the workers’ compensation arena. Many employees out on workers’ comp leave become addicted to these painkillers, which can extend their leave and cause additional medical problems. There’s a growing concern that doctors may be over-prescribing opioids while failing to properly address the root causes of the pain and discomfort WC patients are suffering from. A number of remedies have been proposed and implemented to address the problem, but a new study — Longer-Term Use of Opioids, 2nd Edition — from the Workers Compensation Research Institute finds that, so far, there appears to have been minimal reduction in the prevalence of longer-term opioid use in the 25 states that were studied.
The study did find a “sizable increase” in the use of drug testing of longer-term opioid users over the study period (between 2008/2010 and 2010/2012). However, it also found that the percentage of claims with opioids that received opioids on a longer-term basis changed very little (within 2 percentage points) during the study period. It also found that, in some states, the percentage of longer-term opioid users receiving drug testing and psychological evaluations was still low.
Louisiana ranked No. 1 as the state where longer-term opioid use was most prevalent, the study found, where one in six injured workers with opioids were identified as having longer-term use of these drugs in 2010/2012. New York and Pennsylvania also ranked highly. Longer-term opioid use by injured workers was much less prevalent in Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey and Wisconsin, with fewer than one in 20.
“The issue this study addresses is very serious, which is how often doctors followed recommended treatment guidelines for monitoring injured workers who are longer-term users of opioids,” said WCRI executive director Richard Victor, in a statement.
Our sister publication, Risk & Insurance, has reported extensively on the problem of opioid addiction and workers comp. You can read some of that coverage here.