WCRI Conference to Highlight Trends, Solutions to Opioid Dependence in WC

“We find extensive opioid prescribing leads to longer duration of temporary disability. When we compare the effect of longer-term opioid prescriptions with no opioid prescriptions, the effect is to triple the duration of temporary disability benefits.”


That finding from the Workers Compensation Research Institute highlights the latest trends in the opioid epidemic as it relates to the workers’ compensation industry. It represents the first evidence of a causal relationship between long-term opioid use and disability duration. The authors will be on hand to delve into the research and the topic during WCRI’s Annual Issues and Research Conference in Boston this month.



Latest Evidence


The WCRI researchers looked at data from 28 states for low back pain injuries between 2008 and 2013 where workers had more than 7 days of lost work time. Additional findings were:


  1. Local prescribing patterns play a significant role in whether injured workers receive opioid prescriptions. In certain states and particular areas within states, injured workers are more likely to receive opioid prescriptions than in other areas. When they compared injured workers with the same injuries in different areas, they found that a 10 percentage point increase in the local rate of longer-term opioid prescribing was associated with a 2.6 percentage point higher likelihood that a similarly injured worker would receive longer-term opioid prescriptions.


  1. Opioid prescriptions persist, despite recommendations against them. While most medical guidelines do not typically recommend prescribing of long-term opioids for low back pain, about 12 percent of WCRI’s sample had them prescribed, and about 39 percent of workers had at least three opioid prescriptions.



Experts Weigh In


In addition to reviewing the most up to date trends, conference attendees will also hear about successful solutions employers are undertaking. The session “Saving Lives—Building a Modern Pharmacy Program amid a Deadly Epidemic” will feature the medical director of the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation discussing interventions that have had notable results:


  • 2011 — more than 8,000 injured workers in Ohio were opioid dependent; meaning they were taking the equivalent of at least 60 mg a day of morphine for at least 60 days.
  • 2017 — by the end of the year, the number was reduced to 3,315.


Dr. Terrence Welsh will outline the steps the Bureau took to reduce by 4,714 the number of injured workers at risk for opioid addiction.


United Airlines has undertaken various initiatives to curb the misuse of opioids among its injured workers, which will be outlined in a separate session. Joan Vincenz joins a representative from the National Safety Council and another from WCRI to discuss how opioids are impacting the workplace and steps employers can take to mitigate them.


A growing interest in medical marijuana and its potential effect on opioid prescribing for chronic pain patients is the focus of a discussion in another session. Dr. David Bradford of the University of Georgia will share results of a new study on drugs used to treat clinical conditions for which marijuana might be a potential alternative treatment.



The Evolution of WC


In addition to the opioid epidemic, the conference also focuses on how the work world is changing and the potential impact on workers’ compensation.


  • Will robots take our jobs?
  • Will the workplace be safer with automation or less safe with undertrained independent contractors?
  • How will we insure the new workplace?
  • Will new legal cases arise around independent contractors and on-the-job injuries?


Those are among the questions a distinguished panel of workers’ compensation thought leaders will attempt to answer. A representative each from a large employer, carrier, judicial sector, and labor will make their predictions.


A longer-term forecast is expected in the session, “Scenarios: Workers’ Compensation 2030.” Former WCRI President and CEO Richard Victor will examine external forces shaping the world and the challenges they pose to the industry.


The conference, with the theme “Work and the Comp System: Evolution, Disruption, and the Future,” takes place March 22 and 23 in Boston.



Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center .


Contact: mstack@reduceyourworkerscomp.com.

Workers’ Comp Roundup Blog: https://blog.reduceyourworkerscomp.com/


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