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Study asks: Does taking opioids for back pain delay return to work?

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Hamilton, Ontario – Being prescribed an opioid for low back pain may keep workers off the job longer, according to a new study from McMaster University.

Researchers analyzed 1,442 claims from the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and found that workers receiving disability benefits for low back pain were more likely to stay on claim if they received opioids.

The researchers did not establish causation between opioid prescription and a longer time to resolve claims – workers who received opioids may have sustained more serious injuries and needed the additional time to recover. “On the other hand, adverse effects of opioids on mental and physical function could be the reason,” Jason Brusse, lead study author and assistant professor of anesthesia at McMaster, said in a university press release. Brusse recommended additional research on the correlation.

The study, which was published Aug. 26 in the journal BMJ Open, was funded by the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board Research Advisory Council and the Ontario Chiropractic Association.