The Mayo Clinic wanted to assess the risk factors associated with opioid use. They started by asking, "How many opioid prescriptions end up leading to long term use?"
Turns out, 1 in 4.
Specifically, the researchers found that 21% of first-time prescriptions led to use for 3-4 months and 6% of first-time scripts led to use longer than 4 months.
Those time intervals are silly, aren't they? From our perspective in work comp, we're seeing material numbers of injured workers progress (or, perhaps, regress) to 3-4 years of opioid use after the first script. Personally, I'd like to see a study that tests use patterns over much longer duration intervals. I also suspect that the work comp population exhibits a higher "long term use conversion rate" than a randomly selected patient population. System design tends to reward certain stakeholders for disability duration.
The research is also intriguing because it examined the specific risk factors that lead to long term use. Nicotine use and prior substance abuse issues were the top risk factors. While this isn't necessarily surprising, we see scant evidence that these risk factors are being taken into account at the time of the first opioid script. The best predictive models in our industry are certainly telling us that these patients are at higher risk, but if the prescribing doctors aren't taking this information seriously and using it to inform an alternative, non-opioid treatment plan... what's the use?
Faster, more focused interventions with prescribers will be key to preventing long term opioid use.
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