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7. Pain management, opioids top list of workers comp trends to watch

Posted On: Dec. 27, 2018 7:00 AM CST

7. Pain management, opioids top list of workers comp trends to watch

The conundrum of pain management and opioids is likely to continue into 2019, according to experts.

At least one stakeholder named it a top trend to watch, as states grapple with new drug formularies, weaning concerns for injured workers with years of opioid use, and alternative therapies that aim to reduce drugs in comp.

Some states, such as California and Ohio, are making strides in prescription drug management, as one recent study highlighted, calling drug laws a “fast-moving” area of regulation.

While opioid prescribing is down in comp, problems will persist as the industry continues to grapple with strong pain medication, experts say.

Cracking down on prescribing was the topic of at least one major court decision in Tennessee in which the state’s highest court ruled that a worker does not qualify for a second opinion on opioid prescriptions. 

Stakeholders improved their grasp of these issues thanks to numerous studies released this year. For example, one study found that opioid prescriptions hinder return to work for injured workers, finding that longer-term prescribing of opioids more than triples the duration of temporary disability among workers with work-related, nonsurgical, lower-back injuries when compared to claims with no opioid prescribing.

And another study found that only 13 states and the District of Columbia have implemented comprehensive programs to eliminate opioid overdoses and help protect their residents. The study examined how well states were tackling the opioid epidemic, looking at six areas of improvement in policies, including: mandating prescriber education, implementing opioid prescribing guidelines, integrating prescription drug monitoring programs into clinical settings, improving data collection and sharing, treating opioid overdose, and increasing availability of opioid use disorder treatment — finding that some states perform better than others.

Meanwhile, another study found that two-thirds of human resources professionals say opioids are affecting the workplace.