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Claims that include opioid prescription more likely to become catastrophic: Report

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Workers compensation claims that include prescriptions for certain opioid painkillers are nearly four times more likely to develop into catastrophic claims, according to a recent report in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

The study, titled "The Effect of Opioid Use on Workers' Compensation Claim Cost in the State of Michigan," was published in the journal's August edition. The research was based on data from more than 12,000 workers comp claims processed by Lansing, Mich.-based Accident Fund Holdings Inc. between January 2006 and February 2010.

The study noted that claims involving long-acting opioids were 3.94 times as likely to have a total cost of $100,000 or more compared with claims without any prescriptions. Claims with short-acting opioids were 1.76 times as likely to have a cost of $100,000 or more.

Claims that included long-acting opioids were 9.3 times more costly than claims that did not have such prescriptions, while claims with short-acting opioids were 2.8 times more expensive, the report said.

"To control costs, efforts must be made to rationalize the use of opioids in workers compensation claimants, particularly the use of (long-acting) opioids," the study says.

Injured workers with chronic pain often suffer from comorbid health conditions, such as anxiety, that can make them more prone to abusing opioid prescriptions, the study said.

While injury severity, attorney representation and other factors contributed to higher medical and indemnity payments, the study said that opioid use was an "independent predictor" of whether a comp claim would generate catastrophic costs.