Study finds tie between workers’ comp and persistent opioid use

Study finds tie between workers’ comp and persistent opioid use

Do you know someone who is taking opioid painkillers for ongoing pain because of an accident or injury on the job?

You should know that if they continue taking opioids for an extended period of time, they could be setting themselves up for opioid dependence – a known risk of persistent opioid use. At the very least, long-term opioid use – and even shorter term use – can cause some uncomfortable side effects.

An extensive research project examined workers’ comp claims by nearly 10,000 patients for injuries on the job. The study, covering the period January 2008 through December 2016, looked specifically for ‘persistent opioid use,’ defined as ‘an opioid prescription fulfillment beyond 90 days from the date of injury.’

The researchers found that more than 30 percent of claimants were still taking opioids three months after the accident or injury. In contrast, this is far more than even post-surgical opioid prescriptions by a large margin. The CDC says only 6 percent of surgical patients are still taking opioids after 90 days.

Opioid use climbing

The study, from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, reported that workers’ comp opioid prescriptions have “climbed considerably” since 2003. This more or less parallels the rise in prescriptions among the public at large.

“These findings suggest workers’ compensation claimants have a high proportion of persistent opioid use,” the researchers said. “Interventions to lower persistent opioid use among this population should target patients with the identified factors, and since persistent opioid use does not correlate well with injury severity, consideration should be given to not initiating opioid use for non-severe injuries.”

In other words, some serious injuries may require persistent use of opioids, but many persistent prescriptions are probably not needed.

Opioid painkiller side effects

There are numerous uncomfortable and even serious side effects associated with opioids:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal distention and bloating
  • Constipation, a very common complaint
  • Liver damage when opioids are combined with acetaminophen
  • Tolerance and dependence (needing more and more)
  • Addiction (must have no matter the consequences)
  • Overdose, brain damage and death.

There’s another serious side effect called ‘opioid-induced hyperalgesia.’ Many studies show how opioids create a perception of pain that is not being caused by the original painful injury or condition. It makes patients feel that they “still hurt and need their opioids” when in fact the injury or condition has fully healed. So they demand more prescription opioids, and too many doctors simply write a new prescription.

Alternatives are the answer

For chronic pain (lasting more than 90 days) there are non-opioid alternative therapies that have proven effective for many patients. Such therapies include prescription and over-the-counter analgesics such as aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen, chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, and several high-tech treatments using radio waves and electrical signals.

“The strong association between persistent opioid use and chronic pain diagnoses are concerning and may highlight a critical gap between national evidence-based guidelines and actual prescribing practices,” the study says. “Evaluating the effectiveness of alternative pain management strategies in lowering pain and opioid reliance in the workers’ compensation population is an important area for future research.”

Certainly, as the study indicates, there’s a real need for safe therapeutic interventions that can reduce the use of prescription opioids by people injured at work.

Meanwhile, if you or someone you care for is experiencing persistent opioid use, by all means, call Novus today. We will help you get the answers you need to effectively handle the situation.

Start Your New Path to Sobriety Today!

    • Please enter your name.
    • This isn't a valid phone number.
    • Please enter your email address.
      This isn't a valid email address.
    • Please make a selection.
    • Please enter a message.