Workers’ comp seeing reduced long-term opioid prescriptions

According to a new study by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute, several states have seen a reduction in claims involving prescription opioids like Oxycontin.

The study looked at opioid prescriptions in workers’ comp across 26 states for injuries suffered between 2010 and 2013. Researchers found that several states had seen up to a four percentage point reduction in long-term opioid prescriptions. California, however, did not see any reduction.

Why fewer opioids?

The increasing abuse of prescription painkillers is certainly a cause for alarm. The Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recently recommended that President Trump declare opioid use a state of emergency in the U.S.

Many states, in response to this epidemic, have instituted a variety of public policy initiatives and regulations attempting to limit opioid use by the public. A few of those have involved workers’ compensation, for example the institution of a drug formulary, which essentially sets out what prescriptions doctors can order for what kinds of injuries and ailments. California is currently in the process of instituting a drug formulary.

What is the best way to fight opioid abuse and addiction?

While controlling opioid addiction is certainly a worthy goal, there is a question whether state control over opioid prescriptions in workers’ compensation claims is appropriate. Generally, medication is best determined by doctor-patient communication based on individual circumstances, symptoms and treatment recommendations.

In an effort to cut costs, workers’ compensation can end up interfering with this relationship and harming medical treatment. In addition, many opioid fatalities are caused by illicit street drugs, including drugs like carfentanil, and not necessarily prescribed painkillers.

Reducing the need for long-term opioid prescriptions is a worthwhile endeavor. However, it is important that regulations in workers’ compensation do not infringe on patient treatment.

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