- Treating lower back pain with long-term opioid prescriptions keeps injured employers on disability out of work longer, according to a new study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI). The study, "The Impact of Opioid Prescriptions on Duration of Temporary Disability," found that employees on longer-term opioid prescriptions to treat lower back pain were out on disability three times longer than those without opioid prescriptions.
- WCRI’s president and CEO John Ruser said in a statement that medical practice guidelines don't condone the use of longer-term prescribed opioids for lower-back injuries that don't require surgery, but that the drug is routinely used for that purpose. He said that a policy addressing the problem could get workers back on the job sooner.
- The study also found that in locations where prescriptions for longer-term opioids are high, employees living in those areas are more likely than others to be prescribed long-term opioids.
The overprescribing of opioids is challenging employers in unprecedented ways. According to a Quest Diagnostics study, prescription drug use is showing up in 52% of drug tests. Addiction is said to be responsible for driving 20% of men out of the workforce. And unfortunately, the overuse of opioids has led some to use harder illegal drugs like heroin, prompting the Trump administration to declare opioid use a "public health emergency."
CVS's prescription benefit management (PBM) arm, CVS Caremark, recently announced restrictions on opioid prescribing. As employers wade further into the waters of more direct health management, the discussions around opioids will likely only continue, especially since the drug directly impacts a number of employees.
Policies like CVS's that restrict longer-term opioid prescriptions to get injured employees well and back to work might be worth considering. Now that employers are considering the holistic nature of wellness beyond physical fitness, such programs are more realistically feasible for companies of all types.