For over a decade, the workers’ comp industry has battled endlessly against the inappropriate utilization of opioid pain medications. The opioid epidemic has caused 400,000 overdose deaths since 1999,1 along with untold financial ramifications.
But over the last few years, the tide has been turning. Overall opioid prescribing has been declining since 2012, with a 19% reduction in the annual prescribing rate from 2006-2017.2
This trend is so prevalent that workers’ comp professionals in managed care are now focusing more attention to other matters. According to a 2020 workers’ comp industry insights survey conducted by Healthesystems, while chronic pain remains the top most concerning health risk within claimant populations, opioids are no longer viewed by industry professionals as a top program challenge, health risk, or claim risk.3
While there’s still work to be done to end the opioid epidemic, especially in regard to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, it is clear that, within the industry, different pain therapies are being embraced. Our survey data aligns with a study by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) of 27 state workers’ comp systems that found prescription opioid utilization is decreasing while the utilization of other pain management therapies are on the rise.4
As the industry embraces different pain therapies, what should workers’ comp professionals know about these therapies?
This article explores the utilization, risks and concerns, of various non-opioid therapies, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, gabapentinoids, muscle relaxants, physical medicine, medical marijuana, and alternative therapies.