Longer-Term Opioid Prescriptions Increases Lost Work Time: WCRI Study

Using prescribed opioids adds significant time to temporary disability taken by workers with work-related lower back injuries, according to a new industry study. Temporary disability is time that workers spend away from work recovering from their work-related injuries.

“While medical practice guidelines often advise against routine use of opioids for the treatment of nonsurgical low back injuries, opioid prescribing in these cases is common,” said John Ruser, Workers Compensation Research Institute’s (WCRI) president and CEO. The study was released today by the WCRI. “Based on the results of this study, there is a clear implication that policies addressing inappropriate longer-term opioid prescribing will result in faster return to work.”

Longer-term opioid prescriptions resulted in durations of temporary disability that were more than triple the durations of temporary disability for claims with no opioid prescriptions, according to the study, The Impact of Opioid Prescriptions on Duration of Temporary Disability. In contrast to the result for longer-term opioid prescribing, a small number of opioid prescriptions, over a short period of time, did not lengthen temporary disability.

Local prescribing patterns also played a strong role in determining whether injured workers received opioid prescriptions. Workers who lived in high-prescription areas were more likely to receive opioid prescriptions than workers who lived in low-prescription areas.

For example, a 10-percentage point increase in the local rate of longer-term opioid prescribing was associated with a 2.6 percentage point higher likelihood that an otherwise similar injured worker would receive longer-term opioid prescriptions.

The study was authored by Dr. Bogdan Savych, Dr. David Neumark, and Dr. Randy Lea. It uses data from 28 states, for injuries between 2008 and 2013 where workers had more than seven days of lost work time. The 28 states, which represent over 80 percent of benefits paid, are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Source: WCRI