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March 14, 2018

Study links longer-term opioid prescriptions to more time off work

Longer-term prescribing of opioids causes substantially longer duration of temporary disability among workers with work-related low back injuries, according to a new study from an independent, not-for-profit research organization based in Cambridge, Mass.

Those longer lasting prescriptions led to out-of-work durations that were more than triple those of disability claims not involving opioids, according to the study from the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI).

WCRI examined data from 28 states, including Connecticut, for injuries between 2008 and 2013 where workers had more than seven days of lost work time.

In contrast to the result for longer-term opioid prescribing, a small number of opioid prescriptions over a short period of time did not lengthen temporary disability, according to findings. Temporary disability is time that workers spend away from work recovering from their work-related injuries.

“While medical practice guidelines often advise against routine use of opioids for the treatment of nonsurgical low back injuries, opioid prescribing in these cases is common,” said WCRI CEO John Ruser. “Based on the results of this study, there is a clear implication that policies addressing inappropriate longer-term opioid prescribing will result in faster return to work.”

Local prescribing patterns played a strong role in determining whether injured workers received opioid prescriptions, WCRI said. Workers who lived in high-prescription areas were more likely to receive opioid prescriptions than workers who lived in low-prescription areas.

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