Employees who work in industries like construction and mining are often exposed to a range of workplace hazards that can cause serious injuries. Depending on the nature of the injury, the worker may suffer from varying degrees of pain. To help alleviate that pain, the worker’s healthcare provider may write a prescription for an opioid painkiller.
For too many patients, a single prescription can lead to addiction. Unfortunately, according to a study released by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute, construction workers and miners represent a significant percentage of the 1.4 million opioid pain medication prescriptions in 2014 and 2015 covering 27 states.
According to researchers, 29 percent of the injured workers who received prescription opioids were in the construction industry, and 33 percent worked in the mining industry. In addition, those workers were more likely to take higher doses of the medication, and for a longer period of time, according to the study.
The combination of the higher dose and the longer period of time taking the drug is particularly dangerous.
More Opioids Prescribed to Workers in Rural Areas
The study also found that workers who reside in rural areas are more likely to receive an opioid painkiller, compared to those who live in more urban areas. The researchers suggest that workers who live in more populated urban areas most likely have greater access to different options for pain management, including physical therapy, chiropractic therapy, and acupuncture.
Physicians’ prescribing habits may be different in areas where there are clinics that specialize in offering alternative treatments in pain management. Further, some of these healthcare professionals may not have the authority to prescribe an opioid painkiller.
Other Study Findings
In addition to construction and mining workers, the study found that older workers were more likely to be prescribed an opioid painkiller. Close to 50 percent of workers who were 49 years of age or older received prescription opioids, compared to 42 percent of workers between the ages of 25 and 39.
Finally, 66 to 79 percent of workers who suffered fractures, carpal tunnel syndrome, and neurologic spine pain were prescribed at least one opioid painkiller to help manage the pain and discomfort.
Overprescribing opioid painkillers is one of the main contributors to the ongoing opioid epidemic in this country. Too often, a healthcare provider will prescribe an opioid when an over-the-counter pain medication will provide effective pain management. Some workers may be given a higher dose than is necessary, or given a refill when they no longer require such a potent painkiller.
Other pain management options should be considered, based on the nature and severity of the injury. Research continues to show that opioids should be generally avoided if at all possible.