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Injured Workers and the Risk of Narcotics Misuse

Oct. 9, 2012
Injured workers who use narcotics longer-term may be at risk of experiencing addiction and further work loss, according to new research.

A new study from The Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) examining injured workers’ use of narcotics (or opioids) found that more frequent and longer-term use of these drugs may lead to addiction and increased disability and work loss. Furthermore, the study revealed relatively low compliance in some cases for recommended monitoring services, such as drug testing and psychological evaluations, designed to prevent opioid misuse.

“This study addressed a very serious issue: how often doctors followed recommended treatment guidelines for monitoring injured workers under their care, who are longer-term users of narcotics,” said Dr. Richard Victor, WCRI’s executive director. “This study will help public officials, employers, and other stakeholders understand as well as balance providing appropriate care to injured workers while reducing unnecessary risks to patients and costs to employers.”

According to WCRI, injured workers who overuse or misuse opioids could result in overdose deaths, addiction and diversion. The study, “Longer-Term Use of Opioids,” examined longer-term use of narcotics and recommended treatment follow-up in 21 states.

Key findings include:

  • Nearly 1 in 12 injured workers who started narcotics were still using them 3-6 months later.
  • Drug testing was used less frequently than recommended by medical treatment guidelines. Among claims with longer-term use of narcotics, 18-30 percent received drug testing in most states studied, with the 21-state median at 24 percent. Over the study period, the percentage of workers with longer-term use of narcotics who received at least one drug test increased from 14 to 24 percent in the median state.
  • Only 4–7 percent of the injured workers with longer-term narcotic use received psychological evaluation and treatment services in the median state. Even in the state with the highest use of these services, only 1 in 4 injured workers with longer-term narcotic use had psychological evaluation and 1 in 6 received psychological treatment.

The study is based on nearly 300,000 workers' compensation claims and 1.1 million prescriptions associated with those claims from 21 states, including: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

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