According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 15 percent of workers in the United States battle chronic pain. A great deal of these workers have experienced injuries like fractures, sprains, and strain injuries. Pain management is important to help workers maintain quality of life and be able to support their families.

In light of the statistics, it is perhaps not surprising that many are questioning whether workers’ compensation is contributing to the opioid crisis. Opioid analgesics (pain relievers) are available through most workers’ compensation programs. They are necessary for relief but come with the potential for dependence and addiction if taken over a long period of time.

Injured Workers and Opioids

The National Council of Compensation Insurance (NCCI) reported in 2016 that workers who received an opioid prescription were provided with three-times the prescriptions as the U.S. prescribing rate. In fact, the CDC reports that 37 percent of opioid overdose deaths were among individuals who had a prescription for the medication.

In 2016, the CDC reported that 44 percent of all workers’ compensation claims across 40 states included at least one opioid prescription. Around 15 percent of those claims included an injury that occurred six years or more before the time of the study. Thirty percent included an injury that was 2-5 years prior.

Opioids are a helpful and effective way to control chronic pain and help workers continue their occupation. Unfortunately, when mismanaged, opioids have a devastating impact on the worker, the workplace, and the worker’s loved ones. Thankfully, there have been federal strides and programs implemented to curtail over-prescribing opioids. Latest data shows 34% decline in overall opioid use, 25% decline in new opioid prescriptions, 54% decline in new opioid prescriptions lasting more than 30 days, 71% drop in claimants with a morphine equivalent dose (MED) of 500 or more, and a 43% drop in users with an MED of 90 or more.