The number of prescription opioid overdose deaths has increased dramatically in recent years and many prescribers are unsure how to balance treatment of pain with secondary prevention. Guidelines recommend low-severity injury patients not receive opioids early in the course of their care, but evidence supporting this guideline is limited. Data from 123 096 workers’ compensation claims with back and shoulder injuries were analysed to evaluate this guideline. Back and shoulder injury claimants with early opioid use (≤1 month after injury) had 33% lower (95% CI 24% to 41% lower) odds and 29% higher (95% CI 6% to 58% higher) odds, respectively, of long-term opioid use (>3 months) than claimants with late opioid use, after adjusting for key covariates. Stratified analyses indicate that early opioid use does not appear to increase the risk of long-term use except in cases where no diagnosis or only the diagnosis of unspecified shoulder pain is given prior to prescription.
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