A recent study out of the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) in Cambridge, Mass has found a substantial variation between the high- and low-use states in terms of narcotic use in workers compensation cases. This study involves findings in 25 states.
This study delving into narcotic usage started in 2011.
The states involved in the workers’ compensation data include: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Across these 25 states, approximately 264,000 workers’ compensation claims and 1.5 million prescriptions were included.
Among the 25 states studied, Louisiana and New York had the highest rates. In these two states, the average worker was receiving more than 3,600 mg of morphine-equivalent narcotics. This number is equivalent to a worker needing to take a 5-mg of hydrocodone every four hours (continuously) for an entire month—i.e. a 120-mg dose for an entire month. By comparison, Missouri and Iowa had the lowest rate of narcotic use. They averaged a morphine equivalent per claim of roughly 1,000 mg.
That is a huge 2,600 mg difference!
The findings of the study bring to light that high-use states tend to have more workers requiring narcotic usage for pain control. Moreover, these state’s workers require taking opioids for a longer period. While this could point to these states having more workers who are injured on the job, the numbers also raise questions about the screening process for patients; especially screening for psychological and addiction concerns.
Screening for psychological and addiction concerns should be a priority in most cases where opioid medications are involved. This is because even if a person’s medical condition requires the use of opioids for pain management, this class of medication always has a risk of dependence.
Therefore, doctors will want to follow medical treatment guidelines—especially for long-term opioid management—including the use of random drug testing and frequent psychological reevaluations to avoid addition. This is because the most important thing for doctors is to help injured workers recover and return to work quickly.
One belief for higher levels of opioid prescribing is that in some states, more pressure is put on the provider because regulators and hospital staffs expect providers to prescribe narcotic intervention for almost any pain level. Furthermore, the level of prescriptions may depend on the level of enforcement and importance according to providers.
One issue that was discovered over the course of this study is opioid usage for nonsurgical patients. This group of patients, whose prescriptions were for nonspecific back pain, raises a problem as current clinical guidelines suggest that opioids not be prescribed for this use. Moreover, even if opioid usage is appropriate, opioids should be used no longer than 7-14 days—not the month(s) that the study discovered.
While there is no denying that injuries (regardless of where they occur) will require some level of pain medication to speed recovery, being injured on the job can be a difficult time, sometimes requiring intervention to get back to work.
If you’ve been injured on the job and need assistance getting compensation, please schedule a free consultation with Colorado workers’ comp attorney R. Mack Babcock at Babcock Law Firm today, or continue browsing our blog and knowledge center to find other information.