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Nearly half of the states included in a study of opioid prescribing in workers compensation cases have seen reductions in the frequency and strength of powerful pain medications given to injured workers, according to a study released Tuesday by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Workers Compensation Research Institute.
The annual study, “Interstate Variations in Use of Opioids,” examines interstate variations and trends in the use of opioids and prescribing patterns of pain medications across 26 state workers comp systems, covering data from October 2009 through March 2015.
The study showed that the average amount of opioids in 11 states decreased by 20% to 30% between 2010 – 2012 and 2013 – 2015 data. Researchers pegged legislative changes and awareness as key components in the reduction of opioids in workers comp claims.
For example, four states implemented stricter enforcements of prescription drug monitoring programs, with new regulations varying between requiring that a doctor query whether a person has been prescribed an opioid before and that all doctors who prescribe opioids enter a registry, the report said.
Meanwhile, Louisiana, New York and Pennsylvania remain at the top when it comes to the average amount of opioids prescribed. Overall nonsurgical claims account for a sizable percentage of prescriptions, according to the study.
“Opioids use continued to be prevalent among nonsurgical claims with more than seven days of lost time,” the report states. “In 2013/2015, about 65 to 75 percent of these injured workers with pain medications received opioids in most states.”
The report acts as a tool to monitor the effects of ongoing policy changes, said Ramona Tanabe, the institute’s executive vice president and in-house counsel, in a press statement.
“By comparing variations in the use of opioids across the states, this study can help policymakers and stakeholders be better informed about the level of opioid use in their states and better target future efforts to address issues related to prescription opioids in their states,” she said.
The steady march away from opioid prescribing in workers compensation will continue into 2017, according to industry experts who call this ongoing shift in treating pain for injured workers a necessary, but complicated journey for all parties involved.