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Strong responses to the opioid epidemic have led to decreased opioid use over the past five years. However, has the decline been consistent across industries?

A new article published by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) explores the difference in opioid use between industry groups by looking at data-driven trends underlying opioid prescribing patterns in workers compensation – with a special focus on the contracting industry.

Studies have shown that certain industry groups have been more prone to opioid use and abuse than others. Further, NCCI data shows that the treatment of injured workers in certain industry groups is significantly more likely to include opioids. For example, in the contracting industry, the quantity of opioids prescribed to injured workers is more than double the average number prescribed to those in all other industry groups.

The share of claims receiving an opioid is greater for the contracting industry group (20%) when compared with all other industry groups combined (14%).

This means that, on average, one out of every five contracting claims involves at least one opioid prescription. In addition, these contracting industry group claimants, on average, receive both 20% more opioid prescriptions and opioid prescriptions that are 20% stronger.

One factor contributing to the higher opioid usage in the contracting industry group is the greater likelihood for serious injuries to occur. Higher medical costs are typically associated with more serious injuries-claims that may be more likely to require pain management efforts, including the potential use of opioids.

For accidents occurring in 2017, the average medical cost per claim, including prescription costs, in the contracting industry group was approximately 2.3 times greater than that for all other industry groups combined.

Opioid usage has experienced decreases in recent years, including among the contracting industry. Between 2012 and 2017, overall, per-claim opioid usage fell by 49% in the contracting industry group.

Decreased opioid usage in the contracting industry group can be primarily explained by a combination of two factors: fewer claimants receiving an opioid prescription, and a reduced number of opioid prescriptions for those who do receive them.