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Which injured workers are more likely to receive opioid prescriptions? Study explores

prescription filling
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Cambridge, MA — Injured workers who are older, employed by organizations with smaller payrolls and in counties where more people have health insurance are more likely to receive opioid prescriptions, according to a recent study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

The study, “Correlates of Opioid Dispensing,” used data from 1.4 million pain medication prescriptions filled within 18 months after an injury occurred between October 2014 and September 2015 in 27 states.


Workers at least 55 years old received an opioid prescription 49 percent of the time and two or more prescriptions 24 percent of the time. For workers ages 25 to 39, those percentages were 42 and 19, respectively.

Other findings:

  • Mining industry (including oil and gas extraction) workers were most likely to received opioid prescriptions for pain (62 percent). Construction workers were second at 55 percent.
  • Injured workers in counties with uninsured rates at or less than 9 percent received an opioid prescription 57 percent of the time, compared with 48 percent for workers in counties where uninsured rates were 30 percent or greater.
  • Injured workers at organizations with payrolls between $1 million to $4 million received an opioid prescription 54 percent of the time. For those employed by companies with larger payrolls, those percentages were either 47 or 48.
  • Injured workers in areas with fewer than 20,000 residents received an opioid 68 percent of the time. For areas with more than 250,000 residents, opioids were prescribed 54 percent of the time.
  • 79 percent of workers who suffered fractures were prescribed opioids. Cases of carpal tunnel and neurological spine pain received opioids 70 percent and 66 percent of the time, respectively.
  • Men received an opioid prescription in 46 percent of cases, and two or more in 22 percent of cases. For women, those percentages were 42 and 19, respectively.

“This information may be useful for policymakers, payers, employers and health practitioners to target efforts to better manage possible overuse of opioids while providing appropriate care to injured workers and reducing unnecessary risks to patients and unnecessary costs to employers,” the researchers said.

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