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Big drop in opioids being given out to workers in some states: study

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A push to combat opioid abuse may be bearing fruit in a number of states that have seen reductions in the use of such painkillers by injured workers.

A new study found noticeable reductions in the amount of opioids received by injured workers from 2009 through 2014 in a majority of the 25-state area that was studied.

And six states of those states — Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Texas — saw significant drops in such opioid use, in the range of 20 percent to 31 percent, according to the study issued by the Workers Compensation Research Institute. WCRI based the study on workers' comp claims filed in each state.

The findings come as opioid abuse has reached epidemic levels in the United States, where almost 80 people die of overdoses from either heroin or prescription painkiller medication every day.

WCRI's study found wide variations in the rate of opioid prescriptions for injured workers on workers' comp across the states looked at. But the study also found that opioid prescriptions were common in all of those states.

"Opioid use was prevalent among nonsurgical claims with more than seven days of lost time," the study said. "About 65 to 80 percent of these injured workers with pain medications received opioids in most states."

Even in states with less prevalence of opioid prescriptions, "frequency of opioid use was high," the study said.

In one low-end state, New Jersey, 56 percent of the people on workers' comp who were receiving pain medications had an opioid prescription, and it was 56 percent in another such state, Illinois.

Average amounts of opioids received by injured workers were highest, and "striking," in Louisiana, New York, and Pennsylvania, according to the report.

"In Louisiana and New York, the average injured worker received over 3,400 milligrams of morphine equivalent opioids per claim, which was double that in the median state, and more than three times the number in the states with the lowest use," the study said.

In Pennsylvania, the average was slightly under 3,000 milligrams of morphine equivalent. But no other state had an average above 2,000 milligrams.

Dr. Vennela Thumula, an author of the study and a WCRI policy analyst, said the research could help state officials, insurance companies, doctors and others who deal with opioids identify if usage in their respective states is unusual.