Characteristics Associated with Significant Differences in Opioid Dispensing to Injured Workers Identified in WCRI Study

A new study, Correlates of Opioid Dispensing, published by the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) identifies characteristics of injured workers and their employers that are associated with differences in opioid dispensing rates.

Source: WCRI | Published on January 11, 2019

Prescription Drugs

“This study can help public officials and other stakeholders better predict which injured workers are more or less likely to receive opioids,” said Dr. John Ruser, WCRI’s president and CEO. “For example, this study finds that injured workers in certain industries are more likely to receive opioids on a chronic basis. This information might be useful in setting priorities for targeting special interventions to reduce inappropriate opioid prescriptions.”

The study analyzed a range of possible correlates, including worker (age, gender), injury (type of injury), industry (industry group and employer’s payroll size), and location (county-level opioid dispensing rate, urban-rural classification, and health insurance coverage rate) characteristics. The following are some sample findings from the study:

  • Industry: For the same injuries, workers employed in mining and construction who received pain medications were more likely to receive opioids, as well as to receive opioids on a longer-term basis and at higher doses.
  • Location: Injured workers residing in counties with higher amounts of opioids dispensed per person and those residing in rural and very rural counties were more likely to receive opioid prescriptions.
  • Worker’s Age: Older workers were more likely to receive opioid prescriptions compared with younger workers.
  • Injury Type: A higher proportion of workers who sustained fractures, carpal tunnel, and neurologic spine pain received at least one opioid prescription for pain relief.

The data used for this analysis included 1.4 million pain medication prescriptions filled within 18 months postinjury for injuries that occurred between October 1, 2014, and September 30, 2015, in 27 states. The states are Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The study was authored by WCRI’s Dr. Vennela Thumula and Te-Chun Liu. WCRI received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to support this study. To learn more about this study or to purchase a copy, visit WCRI’s website at

The Cambridge-based WCRI is recognized as a leader in providing high-quality, objective information about public policy issues involving workers' compensation systems.


The Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) is an independent, not-for-profit research organization based in Cambridge, MA. Organized in late 1983, the Institute does not take positions on the issues it researches; rather, it provides information obtained through studies and data collection efforts, which conform to recognized scientific methods. Objectivity is further ensured through rigorous, unbiased peer review procedures. WCRI's diverse membership includes employers; insurers; governmental entities; managed care companies; health care providers; insurance regulators; state labor organizations; and state administrative agencies in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.