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The Effect of Opioid Prescriptions on Workers’ Compensation

The country’s opioid issue has been a top headline maker for the past few years and unfortunately continues to dominate the news as the problem continues in the United States. The effects have been felt throughout several industries, including workers’ compensation, which has seen some states respond to the opioid prescription epidemic with state legislation addressing the crisis.

Opioid Prescriptions for Workplace Injuries

According to a study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI), the practice of prescribing opioids for work related injuries has led to longer periods of temporary disability among those with work-related back injuries.

For the study, WCRI compared data from 28 states for workplace injuries where the injured employees were out of work for more than seven days. Results indicate that the extended length of the prescriptions of opioids for those with workers’ compensation claims resulted in claimants missing almost three times the amount of work than the disability claims that do not include opioids. They also discovered that the time missed for work related injuries where the opioid prescriptions were reduced to a shorter period of time, did not increase the temporary disability time that workers spent recovering from a work-related injury.

According to WCRI CEO John Ruser, the need for policies concerning the prescription of opioids is crucial for a faster return to work time for employees. “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 Ruser. "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."

Guidelines for Opioid Prescriptions

Due to the increased opioid issue in the U.S., the American College of Occupational & Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) have created guidelines for the appropriate prescription of opioids for pain for workplace injuries.

The workers’ compensation industry has also seen an early response to the opioid prescription epidemic from states including Washington and Utah, in the form of state legislation and it is expected that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Opioid Guidelines will become enforceable on a national level, which will impact the workers’ compensation industry in the future.

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