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Report: Illinois, other states, reducing number of opioid prescriptions

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Monday, August 19, 2019  |  Article  |  By Cole Lauterbach | The Center Square

Drugs (32)

The Workers Compensation Research Institute monitors how often workers injured on the job are given prescription opioids in 27 select states.

The organization's new report found the percentage of Illinois workers who received a prescription paid for under workers compensation and received an opioid decreased by eight percentage points, from 51 percent in 2012 to about 44 percent in 2016. The average amount of opioids prescribed decreased by 21 percent. The median amount of opioids per claim didn’t drop.

The institute used data from 2012 and 2016 and measured workers who were given opioids in the two years after injury.  

Dr. Vennela Thumula, a policy analyst with the Workers Compensation Research Institute, said Illinois was already below the majority of states the study examined, but it still had reductions. 

“Other states saw larger reductions, partly because Illinois already had a lower prescription rate,” she said. 

It’s hard to pin a reason for the decrease, Thumula said, but many states have advocated for more awareness about opioid-based pain relief. Schedule II drugs, meaning substances that “have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence” per the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, had significant declines in prescription rates, Thumula said. The drop also coincides with the government classifying hydrocodone as a Schedule II narcotic. 

“Sixty percent of the opioid prescriptions that were filled by injured Illinois workers in 2012 were for hydrocodone-acetaminophen,” Thumula said.

Illinois’ workers' compensation system allows physicians to dispense drugs to patients directly, rather than needing a pharmacy to fill the prescription. A Workers Compensation Research Institute study released in May found the state’s workers’ compensation costs were still higher than in most other states.