States Take Aim at Opioid Use in Injured Workers

Concerned about the problems associated with opioids and pain treatment, workers’ compensation (WC) officials around the country are trying multiple strategies to reduce opioid use to treat workplace injuries. Many of the changes are too new to show results, but these practices may help to determine effective ways to curb the opioid epidemic. In 2015, about 3.5 million private industry and public sector employees experienced nonfatal workplace injuries. It isn’t known how many opioid overdoses are associated with injuries received on the job, but narcotics account for about 25% of prescription costs nationwide, or more than $1.5 billion in 2015.

One WC strategy from northeastern states is to limit opioid prescriptions to five or seven days. Another strategy is to develop drug formularies, or lists of preferred medications, to encourage providers to avoid prescribing opioids and other potentially dangerous drugs in WC cases. About 20 states either have or are considering such lists.

Some states are also trying to help injured workers cut back on current opioid prescriptions. New York now allows insurers to request hearings reviewing a claimant’s opioid use. And a voluntary program in Massachusetts expedites hearings for medication disputes and assigns care coordinators to help workers find alternative treatments for pain.

Over the past five years, the state of Ohio has implemented several new policies around opioid use in injured workers. In a recent rule change, the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation can now deny opioid prescriptions if it believes the physician is not following best medical practices. The bureau also allows injured workers to receive treatment for opioid dependence related to their injuries. Ohio’s new strategies have already resulted in 44 percent fewer injured workers receiving opioids and a savings of $46 million in drug costs.

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