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Opioids’ long term impact on workers’ comp – WCRI reports

Opioids will be the biggest problem the workers’ comp industry faces over the next few years.  WCRI’s hosting a webinar on the issue later this month, and I’d encourage you to sign up (do it fast, there’s a limit on attendees).

For those unaware of recent research on the issue, here are a few of the issues:

  • there’s huge variation among and between the states; according to WCRI’s latest research 17% of Louisiana claimants who started using opioids were still using them 3-6 months later, compared to about 3 percent in Arizona.  Clearly the risk of addiction/dependency in LA is much higher than in AZ.
  • Less than a quarter of all long-term opioid users were tested for drugs via urine drug screening.  When you factor in drug testing data that indicates a substantial percentage of claimants prescribed opioids don’t have evidence they’re taking them, it is clear employers and insurers are paying millions for opioids that may not be used for the intended purpose (to be generous).
  • In California, claimants prescribed opioids are off work 3.6 times longer; litigation is 60 percent higher, and their claim costs are twice as high as claimants who don’t receive opioids.

If opioids aren’t on your radar, they soon will be.

If not, you must be in Arizona.

What does this mean for you?

Sign up for the webinar

4 thoughts on “Opioids’ long term impact on workers’ comp – WCRI reports”

    1. Dr Johnson – thanks for the comment. It is unlikely the WC injuries were more severe as the claims were case-mix adjusted

  1. In Louisiana, its well known that a claimant who enters a medical pain management program will have a longer disability time, higher medical costs and hence the need for a higher settlement and/or litigation over the need for the continued treatment. So the difference between the states may simply be explained by the amount of treatment permitted (considered to be medically necessary) by the systems.

  2. I’m a chronic pain MD working with comp in Ontario. I do a lot of work with opioids here.

    1. I am not sure the increase in propensity to use opioids automatically means workers are ‘addicted’–dependent yes. From our work here, addiction is not necessarily the issue, but the lack of effort for MDs to provide any other services to injured worker other than an opioid is. Let’s face it faster and more lucrative than talking to someone for 30min about alternatives.

    2.UDS does need to be adopted more widely.

    3. To Dr. Johnson’s point–sadly from our work the high dose opioids and longer duration on opioids seems to occur in those ‘less’ injured (Read ‘low back strain’).

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Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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