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Fewer injured Kentucky workers receive opioids after reforms

Fewer injured Kentucky workers receive opioids after reforms

Fewer injured workers in Kentucky received opioids and those that did received smaller amounts on average after the implementation of a 2012 law that aimed to reduce powerful pain medications in workers compensation claims, according to a study released Tuesday by the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts, institute examined the impact of Kentucky’s House Bill 1 on opioid dispensing to newly injured workers in the first 12 months after the injury. The study looked at more than 21,000 claims from 2011 and 2013 and more than 91,000 prescriptions associated with those claims, which overall made up about 40% of claims statewide.  

The landmark legislation in 2012 regulated pain clinics and established standards for dispensing and prescribing opioids, including requiring prescribers to access the state prescription drug monitoring program prior to prescribing opioids.

The study noted that prior to the reforms, 54% of Kentucky workers injured in 2011 received at least one opioid prescription within the first year of the injury. After the reforms, 44% of workers injured in 2013 received at least one opioid prescription. Meanwhile, the proportion of injured workers receiving opioids changed little over the same period in neighboring states without similar reforms, according to the study.

Among those receiving opioids, the average amount and strength of opioids decreased by 15% following the reforms, the study found. 

Also following reforms, the proportion of Kentucky workers with pain medications receiving opioids on a chronic basis decreased from 7.3% to 5.7%, according to the study. 

John Ruser, the institute’s president and chief executive officer, said in a press statement that Kentucky’s experience can be useful for other states. 

“The lessons may be useful for policymakers and stakeholders in other states who are considering policy solutions to address prescription opioid utilization in their jurisdictions, while balancing the needs of patients who may need opioids for pain management,” he said.


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