Opioid Risks

Survey Shows Need to Better Educate on Opioids

A majority of patients still believe that opioids are the most effective remedy for pain, and expect treating physicians to prescribe them.
By: | April 18, 2016 • 2 min read

More than two-thirds of treating physicians surveyed say their patients’ expectations impact their decisions on opioid prescribing.


The vast majority incorrectly believe morphine and oxycodone are the most effective ways to treat pain. And 88 percent say they find it difficult to refer patients to treatment for abuse of opioids.

The sobering statistics are included in a survey of 201 treating physicians nationwide. The National Safety Council said overall 99 percent of the physicians prescribe opioids for longer than the three days recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly all the respondents — 98 percent — said they prescribe some form of opioids for pain control despite evidence that they are not the most effective medications to relieve pain.

“Many physicians prescribe opioids. We knew that, but not to that extent,” said Dr. Don Teater, medical advisor for the National Safety Council. Teater discussed the findings in the survey during a recent webinar.

Nearly all the respondents — 98 percent — said they prescribe some form of opioids for pain control despite evidence that they are not the most effective medications to relieve pain. The physicians also underestimate the impact of safer alternatives such as physical therapy.

Teater cited research indicating a combination of 500 mgs of acetaminophen and 200 mgs of ibuprofen was most effective for pain relief followed by 400 mgs of ibuprofen. Fifth on the list was 10 mgs of morphine. Yet, physicians ranked it as the most effective medication to treat pain.

“Opioids do not kill pain; they kill people.” — Dr. Don Teater, medical advisor for the National Safety Council

The survey also showed that while most physicians screen their patients for risk factors of opioid abuse, few ask about family histories of drug or alcohol abuse. Only slightly more than half consult their state’s prescription drug monitoring programs to see what additional medications their patients take.

“Opioids do not kill pain; they kill people,” Teater said. “Doctors are well-intentioned and want to help their patients, but these findings are further proof that we need more education and training if we want to treat pain most effectively.”

Teater said the findings point to the need to change prescriber practices by:

  • Providing more education and additional training on pain treatment.
  • Having open conversations with patients about alternatives to opioids.
  • Becoming certified to treat addiction in case a patient begins displaying signs of abuse.

Additionally, the general public needs to be better informed about the risks of opioids.

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]