Anyone who is prescribed an opioid for pain after a workplace injury needs to be aware that they can be highly addictive. The opioid crisis in this country has many doctors taking new precautions when prescribing and renewing prescriptions for these powerful painkillers.

However, a recently released study from the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute found that people who live in rural areas are more likely to be prescribed an opioid after suffering a workplace injury than those in urban areas. The independent group, which conducts research for employers, insurance companies and labor unions, looked at injuries in 27 states, including here in Illinois.

Researchers found that over two-thirds (68 percent) of workers in rural areas were prescribed at least one opioid for an injury. However, just over half (54 percent) of workers in urban areas did.

The policy analyst who authored the study says that one reason for the larger number of opioid prescriptions to rural workers could be the fact that they have less access to specialists. The doctors they see immediately after their injury may be more likely to prescribe opioids to ease their pain until they can see a specialist who can better treat their injury.

The head of the Missouri Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs agrees with that theory. He notes that when he worked as a workers’ comp claim investigator, he found that to be true because workers often couldn’t get an appointment with a specialist or travel the distance required to see one right away.

He also noted that rural workers often suffer more serious injuries than those who work in cities. He said, “They might have a broken back, they might have had a limb or an arm caught in some farming equipment, they might have been [run] over by something, they might have been crushed in a cave-in.”

If general practitioners and emergency room doctors are prescribing opioids in lieu of being able to adequately treat workplace injuries, perhaps the lack of access to specialized health care in rural areas is the larger problem that needs to be addressed. However, no matter where you live and work, it’s essential to get sufficient workers’ compensation to get the care you need both in the short term and long term. If you’re having difficulty obtaining that compensation, an experienced attorney can help.