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Opioid Use and Workers' Compensation


The WCIRB researches claims involving opioid use and their impact on trends in the California workers’ compensation system. Download and view the key findings at the list below.

Early Indicators of High-Risk Opioid Use and Potential Alternative Treatments - Rel. April 23, 2019

This study compares characteristics of claims involving high levels of opioid use to claims with similar injury mix and injured worker age that involved only a lower dose of opioids. Key findings include:
  • About 2.5 percent of all Accident Year 2013 (AY2013) claims with any opioid prescription involved high-risk opioid use within 12 months of the date of the injury compared with 1.4 percent of AY2016 claims.
  • High-risk opioid use claims incurred significantly higher medical and indemnity costs than similar lower-dose use claims, and they tended to remain open longer.  
  • High-risk opioid use claims were much more likely to involve permanent disability benefits than similar lower-dose claims.
  • During the first six months of treatment, the number of opioid prescriptions per AY2013 claim was 50 percent lower on lower-dose use claims compared to the similar high-risk claims, contributing to 50 percent lower total drug payments per claim.
  • Early indicators of high-risk opioid use include obtaining similar opioids from multiple dispensers, having overlapping opioid prescriptions, using extended-release/long-acting opioids and concurrently using opioids and benzodiazepines.
  • Physical therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic services – as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and non-narcotics – were used significantly more on similar lower-dose use claims than on high-risk use claims.

Video: WCIRB Research Forum

The WCIRB’s Julia Zhang, Ph.D., Director, Medical Analytics, and Dave Bellusci, Executive Vice President and Chief Actuary, hosted a webinar to share findings of the study and answer questions.
View the video recording of the webinar


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