Opioid abuse statistics can be alarming. According to the CDC, opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999, and it is estimated that 78 people die every day in the U.S.

Katherine Schofield, Ph.D., CSP, ARM, CHST, CSRM, from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, shared those facts during her presentation, “Preventing Opioid Overuse in Workers’ Compensation,” on Monday, June 27. Most people know the prescription forms of opioids--OxyContin, Vicodin and morphine, methadone and fentanyl. Typically, opioids are prescribed to control moderate-to-severe pain, and are often prescribed after an acute injury or surgery.

Schofield said those at greatest risk are people with mental illness, patients prescribed high doses and/or long durations, those with multiple providers prescribing medications, using multiple pharmacies, and those with other underlying conditions. “Separate studies indicate that as many as 1 in 4 of all patients receiving long-term care opioid therapy are struggling with addiction problems,” she said.

During the session Schofield discussed the ready access to opioids in today's world and noted that creating better awareness of the addictive qualities and side effects of these drugs among employees is key. “Employers need to help educate employees,” Schofield said. She suggested employers consider adding a discussion about opioids to the company health plan or a total worker health initiative.

She also said employers need to ask workers’ compensation claims managers and physicians if they are following opioid prescription best practices and encourage them to help educate injured employees about the dangers of opioid use.

“People will often have their first encounter with an opioid prescription after a work injury," Schofield said. “A multi-front approach, including assistance from the employer and insurance company can prevent employees becoming another statistic.”