WCRI Study Finds Long-Term Opioid Use Lengthens Time on Temporary Disability Benefits

22 Jun, 2018 Liz Carey


Cambridge, MA (WorkersCompensation.com) – A new study from WCRI has found that workers on long-term prescriptions for opioids receive temporary disability benefits for more than three times the number of weeks those without opioid prescriptions do.

The study, “The Impact of Opioid Prescriptions on Duration of Temporary Disability” looked at whether or not local prescribing rates impacted the chances a worker would get a long-term opioid prescription, as well as whether or not long-term opioid prescriptions lengthened the number of weeks a worker would receive temporary disability benefits. 

According to public policy analyst for WCRI Bogdan Sayvich, the study looked at workers’ compensation claims between 2009 and 2013 in 28 states where the workers suffered from lower back injuries and had more than 7 days of lost time. 

The study found that when a worker has a long-term prescription for opioids, their length of time away from work is longer. For those without any opioid prescriptions, the average length of time receiving temporary disability benefits was 11 weeks. But for those with long-term opioid prescriptions, the length of time receiving temporary disability benefits stretched to 39 weeks.

According to the study, between 52 and 85 percent of non-surgical workers’ compensation claims with pain medications had opioid prescriptions, and of those workers with pain medication, between 24 and 58 percent had two or more opioid prescriptions.

The study found that the higher the morphine equivalent doses, the longer the worker received temporary disability benefits, as well. Those with opioid prescriptions that had morphine equivalent amounts over 2,600 milligrams had a 288 percent change in the duration of their temporary disability benefits; while those who had prescriptions with a morphine equivalent amount of more than 8,000 mg had a 223 percent change in the duration of their temporary disability benefits.

While prescription rates varied wildly not only across the country, but also across states; it was clear from the research that if a worker was in an area where the opioid prescription rate was higher, a worker was more likely to receive a prescription for opioids. For instance, in Philadelphia, a worker had a 62 percent chance of having an opioid prescription, while in Harrisburg, PA, a worker had a 71 percent chance of having an opioid prescription.

“If workers live in areas where prescription rates for opioids are more common, they are more likely to get an opioid prescription,” Savych said. “It’s important to know this if you want to understand what’s driving opioid prescription rates for workers’ compensation claims.”

Savych said that we’ve seen the peak of opioid prescriptions and that in the last year or two there has been a decline in opioid prescription rates overall. This study, he said, was WCRI’s first attempt to examine the duration of temporary disability benefits in relation to long-term prescriptions, but that more study was warranted.


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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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