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Research/studies | Workers' compensation | Drugs

Worker use of prescription painkillers widespread, varies by state: report

May 14, 2014

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Cambridge, MA – Narcotics are frequently prescribed within the workers’ compensation system to help relieve pain among injured workers, and the prescribing frequency varies from state to state, according to a new study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

The study, released May 14, was based on 264,000 workers’ comp claims – and the 1.5 million prescriptions associated with them – from 25 states. The claims stemmed from injuries occurring between Oct. 1, 2007 and Sept. 30, 2010, with prescriptions filled up to March 31, 2012.

On average, about 65-85 percent of injured workers in most states received narcotics for pain relief. In a typical state, the average injured worker received about 1,800 milligrams of morphine-equivalent narcotics per claim. However, workers in New York and Louisiana received more than 3,600 milligrams on average, which the study said was equivalent to taking a 5-milligram Vicodin tablet every four hours for four months.

Concerns about prescription painkiller abuse have increased due to a tripling of drug overdose deaths in the past 25 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC statistics show prescription painkillers contributed to 14,800 deaths in 2008 alone.