The Impact of Practice Guidelines on Opioid Utilization for Injured Workers

Published in: American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Volume 60, Issue 12 (December 2017), Pages 1023-1030. doi: 10.1002/ajim.22779

Posted on on December 07, 2017

by Christine Buttorff, Antonio J. Trujillo, Renan Castillo, Andres I. Vecino-Ortiz, Gerard F. Anderson

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Opioid use is rising in the US and may cause special problems in workers compensation cases, including addiction and preventing a return to work after an injury.


This study evaluates a physician-level intervention to curb opioid usage. An insurer identified patients with out-of-guideline opioid utilization and called the prescribing physician to discuss the patient's treatment protocol. Research Design: This study uses a differences-in-differences study design with a propensity-score-matched control group. Medical and pharmaceutical claims data from 2005 to 2011 were used for analyses.


Following the intervention, the use of opioids increased for the intervention group and there is little impact on medical spending.


Counseling physicians about patients with high opioid utilization may focus more attention on their care, but did not impact short-term outcomes. More robust interventions may be needed to manage opioid use.


While the increasing use of opioids is of growing concern around the world, curbing the utilization of these powerfully addictive narcotics has proved elusive. This study examines a prescribing guidelines intervention designed to reduce the prescription of opioids following an injury. The study finds that there was little change in the opioid utilization after the intervention, suggesting interventions along other parts of the prescribing pathway may be needed.

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