Study: Opioid prescriptions greatly extend workers’ comp duration

A study on painkillers and how they affect a workers’ compensation claim found that an injured worker who’s prescribed opioids often stays that on disability much longer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, medical providers wrote nearly a quarter of a billion opioid prescriptions in 2013, enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills. In terms of work disability, a study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute shows that the average worker stays on disability much longer when given opioid painkillers.

“They stay out of work because of these injuries three times longer than other workers without opioid prescriptions,” said Bogdan Savych, analyst with the Workers Compensation Research Institute and author of the study.

Patients with long-term opioid prescriptions, the study said, are on temporary disability for almost a year, on average.

“Policymakers should be looking at the issue of longer-term opioid prescribing and the issue of whether or not it’s really necessary,” WCRI President John Ruser said.

Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti said Monday that the state needs to change laws to limit long-term opioid prescribing. A task force she headed is recommending legislation that would limit the duration of first-time opioid prescriptions to seven days without specific steps and due diligence from the provider.

“This is common sense,” she said. “This is what the CDC is telling us that we need and it’s what we need to do to overcome this epidemic.”

Illinois’ worker compensation laws are some of the most expensive to businesses in the nation, according to a 2016 Oregon Workers Compensation Premium Rate Ranking. Lawmakers passed a bill that would have created a state-run workers’ compensation agency but it was vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Supporters said the law would have taken steps to combat the cost of workers compensation on Illinois businesses, but opponents said it would do little to address the root costs of workers compensation premiums.

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, chairs a subcommittee on workers’ compensation. While he wasn’t sure that there was a specific connection between the opioid epidemic and workers’ compensation laws, he said the overuse of opioids from doctors has contributed to the problem.

“The misuse and overuse of opioids have caused very significant trauma to people whether it’s on the job or elsewhere,” he said.

Illinois has one of the lower opioid prescribing rates in the country, according to 2015 data from the CDC. Still, almost 2,000 Illinoisans died from overdoses in 2016.

This article was first published by MDJOnline.

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