Several States Report a Decline in Opioid-Related Workers’ Comp Claims

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Several states are seeing a decline in opioid-related workers’ compensation claims, a new study shows. The report comes as many states are implementing new opioid policies to address the growing epidemic.

The Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) conducted the study – entitled Longer-Term Dispensing of Opioids, 4th Edition – which examined the trends of longer-term opioid dispensing in workers’ compensation systems of 26 states. The study also looked at how often certain drug services, such as psychological evaluation, drug testing and treatment recommendations, were used to manage chronic opioid therapy.

The study found that the frequency of longer-term opioid-related claims declined by 4% in New York and Kentucky. Several other states saw a 3% decline, including Tennessee, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota and Massachusetts.

Florida, California and Texas saw a less-significant decline in such claims, with a 1-2% reduction.

Louisiana had the highest rate of longer-term opioid dispensing, with one in six injuries receiving longer-term opioid prescriptions. Georgia, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas also had higher rates compared to most study states.

States with lower rates of longer-term opioid prescriptions – 1 in 25 injured workers – include New Jersey, Kansas, Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin.

Kansas’ prescriptions of long-term opioids fell from 5.6% between 2010 and 2012 to 3.4% between 2013 and 2015. Missouri’s rate declined from 3.9% to 3.7% in the same time periods.

Kansas had the lowest rate of all 26 states. Missouri and New Jersey followed closely behind. Kansas has taken several steps to help stem the opioid epidemic, including implementing policies that ensure doctors are following safe controlled-substance prescribing guidelines. The state also has a prescription drug monitoring program.

The study also found that injured workers who were prescribed longer-term opioids were often not recommended certain services, like psychological evaluation, drug testing and treatment. In 19 out of the 26 states, less than 10% of injured workers with longer-term opioid prescriptions were given psychological evaluations.

“Research finds that high doses of prolonged use of opioids may lead to addiction, increased disability or work loss, and even death,” said WCRI Executive Vice President and Counsel, Ramona Tanabe.

WCRI’s study used data from more than 400,000 workers’ compensation claims with more than seven days of lost work time in 26 states. These claims included more than two million prescriptions and involved injuries that required up to two years of treatment. The sample represents 36%-69% of all workers’ compensation claims in each of the 26 states.

Dongchun Wang, the study’s author, defined long-term use of opioids as six months or more.