According to the California Workers' Compensation Institute, the number of California employees taking opioids to deal with work-related injuries has increased over the last eight years. Between 2002 and 2011, there was reportedly a 300 percent increase in opioid prescriptions, going from around one percent to 5 percent. Payments for opioids during that period rose from 4 percent to 18 percent, a 321 percent increase.
But it wasn't an increase in worker injuries or an increase in certain types of harm that explains the increase in opioid prescriptions, according to the institute. The reason for the increase isn't really known.
The institute is interested in the use of opioids among injured workers, because previous research has revealed that the higher the dose level, the worse the outcome--higher dosages mean higher costs, more time out of work, and more litigation.
The average claim cost of workers receiving seven or more opioid prescriptions was three times more than workers who received one or no such prescription. Workers that received more opioids were 2.7 times more likely to not be working and had 4.7 times as many days off work. Also, the likelihood of indemnity payments among claims with opioid use is greater than among claims with no opioid use.
California is not the only state where this phenomenon has been observed. Washington, New Mexico, West Virginia and Kentucky have also seen this pattern.
The state of Washington is already taking action to limit opioid prescriptions for injured workers to time when those drugs can help facilitate "clinical meaningful improvement in function and pain."
Perhaps California will take similar steps in the near future.
Source: Insurance Journal, "Injured Workers Opioid Use on Rise in California, Washington," Don Jergler, May 2013.