Research/studies Worker health and wellness Workers' compensation Drugs Worker Health and Wellness

Study identifies predictors of longer-term opioid use among injured workers

Photo: towfiqu ahamed/iStockphoto

Cambridge, MA — Workers who receive larger quantities of opioids shortly after an injury, as well as those who are prescribed higher doses, are at increased risk of longer-term opioid use, according to a recent study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

Researchers examined data from nonsurgical claims by workers from 33 states who were injured in 2016 and had at least seven lost workdays. Among workers who received a 15- to 30-day supply of opioids within 90 days of an injury, 9% had longer-term opioid dispensing, compared with 5% of those who received a three-day supply or smaller.

Among workers who were prescribed a dose of 500 milligrams or more, 10% were predicted to have longer-term dispensing. Only 7% to 8% of those who were prescribed a dose less than 500 milligrams were likely to be at longer-term dispensing risk.

Other key predictors of longer-term opioid dispensing risk included:

  • Simultaneously receiving opioids and other central nervous system depressants
  • A higher number of opioid prescriptions early in a claim
  • No surgeries or multiple surgeries – as opposed to one surgery
  • Longer time between an injury and the initial opioid prescription
  • A higher number of doctor visits to fill non-opioid pain medication prescriptions
  • Age – workers between 35 and 64 were at slightly higher risk

“Our study identifies which patients are more likely to develop longer-term opioid use, given what is known about the worker, nature of the injury and nature of the medical care early in the claim,” WCRI CEO John Ruser said in an Oct. 22 press release. “These findings can help policymakers and stakeholders in targeting policies and programs aimed at reducing longer-term use of opioids to the appropriate worker.”

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