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Opioid use sharply declines among group of injured workers: Study

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Clinical intervention reduced chronic opioid use by 32% over the course of one year among more than 100 at-risk injured workers, according to a study released Thursday by workers compensation pharmacy benefit managers Progressive Medical Inc. and PMSI Inc.

The study, conducted by Westerville, Ohio-based Progressive and Tampa, Fla.-based PMSI — which merged in October — in partnership with Millennium Laboratories, evaluated injured workers who had inconsistent drug test results compared with their prescribed regimens, PMSI said in a statement. The patients were enrolled in PMSI's drug testing and monitoring service in March and April 2013 and tracked for six months, PMSI said in an analysis.

At the end of the study period chronic opioid use had been reduced by 32%, PMSI said in the statement. The study also showed a 51% decrease in benzodiazepines — psychoactive drugs used to treat anxiety and insomnia among other conditions — and a 26% decrease in the total use of all medications for their injuries, regardless of drug class.

Drug testing can be expensive, but intervening when tests are inconsistent with prescribed therapy ultimately can help save employers money, said Matthew Foster, clinical pharmacy manager for Progressive Medical and PMSI in an interview.

PMSI's drug testing and monitoring service aims to identify at-risk injured workers and deter them from drug abuse and diversion by facilitating urine drug testing at the prescriber level, Mr. Foster said.

“Just testing and not acting upon it isn't doing anyone any good,'' Mr. Foster said. “If anything, it continues to perpetuate, either the misconception or the fact – whatever it is – that narcotics are not being prescribed, monitored or used appropriately.”

The workers comp industry continues to grapple with how to ensure injured workers aren't misusing opioid painkillers because the prescriptions can be costly for employers and highly addictive when used improperly.