Pennsylvania opioid abuse rated high by workers’ comp group

On Behalf of | May 30, 2013 | Workplace Injuries

It is a fact of medicine that a large measure of the work involved deals with managing pain. Despite increasing emphasis on preventive care and regulations governing workplace safety, workers injured on the job in Pennsylvania often find themselves prescribed powerful pain killers. That practice is now coming in for increased scrutiny because of what is viewed in many quarters as an epidemic of opioid drug abuse.

According to a recent study by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute, Pennsylvania and at least one other state in the Northeast record some of the highest rates in the nation of long-term opioid use by injured workers. The findings were derived from a study of claims for non-surgical work injuries filed between October 2008 and September 2009 and a cross reference with drug prescriptions that were filled up until March 2011.

In Pennsylvania, some 11 percent of the claims for non-surgical treatments were identified as reflecting that the injured workers had been long-term drug users. That’s the third highest percentage in the nation. Only New York is higher. Louisiana holds the number one spot.

WCRI reports that opioids such as fentanyl, codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone and meperidine, are among the most commonly prescribed pain pills. They account for something like 80 percent of all prescriptions. And according to WCRI, a large number of users can still be found to be taking the medications up to a year later.

The group estimates that about one-in-seven workers who’ve received opioids for pain can be expected to still be taking the drugs six to 12 months later. That compares with an estimated one-in-15 or 20 in most states.

The issue of opioid abuse has reached such a level of concern that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has started to study the issue. The CDC notes that of the 40,000 drug overdose deaths recorded every year in the U.S., more than half can be attributed to prescription drugs. And the view of officials is that the problem is likely most apparent in the injured worker population.

In response, state legislatures have been working to enhance drug monitoring. Pennsylvania already has such a program in place, but measures aimed at beefing up controls are pending at the state capitol.

Source:, “New York, Pennsylvania Rank High for Opioids Among Injured Workers,” Young Ha, May 20, 2013