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Use Of Opioids Among Workers' Comp Patients Falls In PA, But Slower Than In Most States

Workers Compensation Institute
Pennsylvania physicians prescribe workers compensation claimants more morphine equivalent amounts (MEA) than all but one state in a recent study

The use of prescribed opioid painkillers among workers' compensation claimants is falling in Pennsylvania at a rate slower than most other states.

The Workers Compensation Research Institute, or WCRI, looked at the number of prescriptions and the strength of the drugs given to injured workers who were off work for at least seven days but did not have to have surgery. Using data from 2009 to 2015, the institute found the use of opioids decreased by 10 percent in Pennsylvania.

That ranks the state seventh from the bottom of the 26 states where there was enough data to complete the analysis.

The report finds 67 percent of the claimants were treated with some type of opioid, which is 6 percent less than the average. But WCRI Policy Analyst Vennela Thumula said Pennsylvania is among the highest when it comes to the amount of painkillers given to each workers comp patient.

“If we compare Pennsylvania to the median study state, then it’s about 87 percent higher,” Thumula said.

The study calls that number “striking.”

The study finds most states that saw larger-than-average decreases, including Kentucky and New York, had instituted policies aimed at reducing the amount of painkillers prescribed, including tighter prescription drug data base reporting and limits on the amount of medication that can be prescribed at any one time.

“Those are two state where we saw fewer injured workers being prescribed opioids and the average amount of opioids was also lower,” WCRI Policy Analyst Dongchun Wang said. “One of the major provisions was requiring prescribers in the state to check the prescription drug monitoring program.”

Pennsylvania enacted similar laws after the study dates, so the impact would not been seen until the Institutes publishes the 5th addition of the study.

Wang said restrictions such as forcing doctors treating workers comp patients to get pre-approval before prescribing painkillers and increased requirements for continuing education on opioid use and abuse also seemed to help lower use.

Because states often pass more than one control at a time, Wang said it is impossible to link a rate of reduction to any one piece of legislation.

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