Different Rates of Opioid Prescriptions Linked to Worker, Employer, Injury Traits

Injured workers in mining and construction, those in rural counties or those who suffer fractures, carpal tunnel and neurologic spine pain are among those more likely to receive prescriptions for opioids than workers in other industries or locations or with other injuries.

Also, younger works are less likely to be prescribed opioids than older employees.

A new study, Correlates of Opioid Dispensing, published by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI), identifies these and other characteristics of injured workers and their employers that are associated with differences in opioid dispensing rates.

The study analyzed a range of possible correlates, including worker (age, gender), injury (type of injury), industry (industry group and employer’s payroll size), and location (county-level opioid dispensing rate, urban-rural classification, and health insurance coverage rate) characteristics.

“This study can help public officials and other stakeholders better predict which injured workers are more or less likely to receive opioids,” said Dr. John Ruser, WCRI’s president and CEO. “For example, this study finds that injured workers in certain industries are more likely to receive opioids on a chronic basis. This information might be useful in setting priorities for targeting special interventions to reduce inappropriate opioid prescriptions.”

The following are some sample findings from the study:

Industry: For the same injuries, workers employed in mining and construction who received pain medications were more likely to receive opioids, as well as to receive opioids on a longer-term basis and at higher doses.

Location: Injured workers residing in counties with higher amounts of opioids dispensed per person and those residing in rural and very rural counties were more likely to receive opioid prescriptions.

Worker’s Age: Older workers were more likely to receive opioid prescriptions compared with younger workers.

Injury Type: A higher proportion of workers who sustained fractures, carpal tunnel, and neurologic spine pain received at least one opioid prescription for pain relief.

The data used for this analysis included 1.4 million pain medication prescriptions filled within 18 months post-injury for injuries that occurred between Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015, in 27 states. The states are Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, 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.

The study was authored by WCRI’s Dr. Vennela Thumula and Te-Chun Liu. WCRI received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to support this study.