How to Identify and Control Chronic Opioid Use in a Workers’ Compensation Claim

new study by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute listed several factors that can identify which injured workers will receive opioid pain medication on a chronic basis.  The study looked at a number of factors, including the worker’s age and gender; the type and size of the employer involved in the claim; as well as the claim location.

Several of the more interesting findings in the study include the fact that the injured worker’s occupation has an effect on their likelihood to use opioids.  For example, for the same type of injury, workers in the mining and construction industries were more likely to receive opioids and to take them on a longer-term basis and at higher doses than workers in other industries.  Workers at smaller companies were also more likely to use opioids than those in larger organizations.

Injured workers who resided in rural counties were more likely to utilize opioids than workers in more urban areas.  Older workers were also more likely to receive opioid prescriptions.  Not surprisingly, the type of injury involved also affected opioid usage.  A higher proportion of workers who sustained fractures, carpal tunnel and neurological spine pain received at least one opioid prescription.  For a more detailed description of the WCRI study see this article from the website workerscompensation.com.

Although it was not mentioned in the most recent WCRI study, previous studies have found that people injured on the job were more likely to utilize opioids long term than other patients with the same injury.  See New Study Links Opioids to Workers’ Compensation Claims.

I’ve posted before about how employers can try and control opioid pain medication usage in claims.  Employers and claim representatives should consider: encouraging physical therapy (New Study Shows How Approving Physical Therapy Can Reduce Medication Costs in a Workers’ Compensation Claim); encouraging injections or nerve blocks; or encouraging alternative therapies such as accupuncture.  The best way to manage a claim is to get the injured worker the care they need to relieve their pain and get them back into their normal routine.  If opioid usage in a claim seems to be excessive, employers can proactively cut-off opioid prescriptions utilizing the procedures in O.A.C. §4123-6-21.1(I).  See New Rules for Self-Insured Employers to Unilaterally Terminate Payment for Medications

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