A new study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) finds there’s been little reduction in longer-term opioid use by injured workers since 2008, despite warnings that prescription drug overdoses are now a national epidemic.
The WCRI study found longer-term opioid use was most prevalent in Louisiana, where one in six injured workers prescribed opioids were identified as using them longer.
Other states with more longer-term users: New York, Pennsylvania and Texas (although the study took place before recent opioid reform measures in the Lone Star state).
The numbers were much lower, less than 1 in 20, in Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey and Wisconsin.
The study is based on 264,000 workers’ comp claims and 1.5 million prescriptions from 25 states (the ones mentioned above and Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia).
WCRI also looked at services including drug testing and psychological evaluations and treatment, which may help prevent opioid misuse resulting in addiction and overdose deaths.
There’s been a sizable increase in the use of drug testing over the study period. However, in some states, the percentage of longer-term opioid users who received these services was still low.
The use of psychological evaluations has remained low.
“This study will help public officials, employers and other stakeholders understand as well as balance providing appropriate care to injured workers while reducing unnecessary risks to patients,” said Dr. Richard Victor, WCRI’s executive director.
Last year, the National Safety Council (NSC) said prescription drug overdoses in the U.S. were a “national epidemic.” Drug overdoses surpassed traffic crashes as the leading cause of injury death in the U.S.
The NSC says more than 38,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2010, and more than 16,000 of these involved prescription opioids.