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Opioids still prescribed regularly for non-surgical pain, studies show

Posted On: Oct. 21, 2016 9:01 AM CST

Doctors in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and New York are prescribing the most opioids to injured workers who didn’t need major surgery, according to a policy analyst who sifted through workers compensation claims for 25 states between 2009 and 2014.

Vennela Thumula, a researcher with the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Workers’ Compensation Research Institute, gave a webinar Thursday to discuss two opioid studies the institute published on recent developments in the fight against opioid abuse.

Ms. Thumula, who co-authored the reports, said WCRI focused only on patients whose injuries were nonsurgical in the studies. The institute found between 54 % and 86 % of those injured workers received opioids among the 25 states studied.

It’s unclear why Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and New York had the highest numbers of opioid prescriptions, Ms. Thumula said, but she noted that a “small proportion of claims have large amounts of opioids.”

In Louisiana alone, one in six injured workers receive opioids for longer than a year and a half post-injury, WCRI found. For Pennsylvania and New York, it was one in ten workers who prescribed opioids for long-term use.

Ms. Thumula also examined the use of benzodiazepines – commonly used to treat anxiety – combined with opioids in injured workers. In August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began requiring prescription warning labels stating that the combined use of those drugs could result in death.

Massachusetts had the highest number of workers comp claimants with prescriptions for both drugs, accounting for 9% of the claims that WCRI studied. Most states fell below 6 % for injured workers receiving prescriptions for opioids and benzodiazepines, according to the institute.

Meanwhile, WCRI found that six states have seen a 20% to 31% reduction in the amount of opioids prescribed per claim between 2009 and 2014: Michigan, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Maryland and Texas.

Ms. Thumula said the use of prescription drug monitoring programs was a common denominator in five of the states that saw decreases.