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Opioids in workers’ comp – problems with long-term usage and what to do about it

WCRI hosted a webinar yesterday to discuss WCRI’s latest research into long term users of opioids, policy options and recommendations.  The event topped the list of best-attended webinars – the problems associated with opioids and potential solutions thereto is a critical issue facing all workers’ comp payers.

Dr Dongchun Wang started with a review of WCRI’s new information – with a focus on longer-term usage – lost time, musculoskeletal-related injuries without surgery who received opioids more than 6 months after injury. Here are a few of Dr Wang’s highlights:

  • In Louisiana, one in six claimants who received opioids early on were long term users, in other states it is one in ten.
  • The use of other treatment modalities in conjunction with opioids was quite low – 24% of claimants from 2009 – 2011 were receiving drug testing – ten points higher than the two previous years – whoever range was from 18% – 30%.
  • This was far better than psych evals – which were in the mid-single digits.  Very few claimants are evaluated on the front end for psych issues, or get psych treatment.

Dr Kathryn Mueller followed up with a discussion of the global pain problem and attendant issues with opioid over-prescribing and abuse.  Claimant MEDs (morphine equivalent dosage) varied by a factor of four across the study states.  This despite consistent guidance from all sources recommending limited use of opioids. ACOEM calls for limiting opioids to 3-10 days while all guidelines re CNCP (chronic non-cancer pain) essentially include the same treatment for pain – limited opioids, use of NSAIDs, manage not end pain, use CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy, 6-10 visits typically).  Opioid therapy is a very small part of pain therapy, which should also require documentation of functional improvement and change. Dr Mueller also:

  • recommended accessing PDMsP.
  • recommended including weaning language in all opioid agreements.
  • noted there are no studies that show long acting opioids are preferred or have better outcomes than short acting – and no evidence for or against a specific drug.
  • noted CO has a drug monitoring payment code to encourage payment for physicians managing opioids
  • said re urine drug monitoring, that physicians need confirmatory testing of metabolites and not just in-office screening

Dr Dean Hashimoto finished up; we will review his comments in a later post.


One thought on “Opioids in workers’ comp – problems with long-term usage and what to do about it”

  1. Good info! Recently ran a data set on our full client base for 2012 and was shocked by the number of IW’s on Schedule II drugs PRIOR to the workplace injury. Is anyone else seeing this?

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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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