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Almost 1 in 12 Injured Workers Prescribed Opioids Still Taking Them Months Later

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Almost one in 12 injured workers prescribed opioids are still taking the drugs three to six months later, a new study finds. Drug testing and psychological evaluation aimed at reducing drug abuse are not conducted in these workers most of the time.

The study of 300,000 workers compensation claims in 21 states was conducted by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI). About 24 percent of workers taking long-term opioids received at least one drug test, the Journal Sentinel reports. Only 4 to 7 percent of injured workers taking long-term opioids also received a psychological evaluation, which can screen out those who are not good candidates for opioid treatment because of past substance abuse or psychological problems.

“This study addressed a very serious issue: how often doctors followed recommended treatment guidelines for monitoring injured workers under their care, who are longer-term users of narcotics,” Dr. Richard Victor, WCRI’s Executive Director said in a news release. “This study will help public officials, employers, and other stakeholders understand as well as balance providing appropriate care to injured workers while reducing unnecessary risks to patients and costs to employers.”

In July, WCRI released a study that found a growing number of workers who get hurt on the job are getting their medication directly from their physicians, instead of pharmacies, which is driving up costs. For example, the cost of Vicodin is four times higher when it is dispensed by doctors instead of pharmacies, according to the study.

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