One wrong landing during a game of Saturday basketball, a fender bender that ended up as a femur bender, a piece of sheetrock that came crashing down instead of going up — the type of injuries that people face can vary widely, and keep ER rooms busy 24/7.
But the treatment in many emergency departments and urgent care centers is often similar: prescription of opioids. Used to control pain, these medications — such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine — have become commonplace. And unfortunately, so has addiction to them.
The Centers for Disease Control have labeled opioid misuse as an epidemic, and its most recent prescription guidelines call for assessing risk of abuse. But why is such an everyday medication becoming such a problem? There are several factors at play in answering that question:
Rise in number of prescriptions: The ease of getting opioids have created an environment of availability, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Over the past decade, there has been drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written, more social acceptability, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies, the Institute notes.
Physical and mental effects: Opioids work by attaching to specific proteins in the body called opioid receptors, found in the gut, spinal cord, and brain. When the attachment is made, they reduce the perception of pain and can bring a sense of relief or euphoria. This can create physical dependence, with withdrawal symptoms when opioid use is reduced or stopped.
Tolerance development: When someone takes opioids regularly, such as for chronic pain or a particularly long-term injury, they often develop a tolerance to the drug. That means it takes higher doses of medication for the same effect, which also increases the chances of physical dependence.
Some employers may think that the opioid abuse epidemic is a cultural problem that doesn't have much of a direct impact on them. But according to the Workers Compensation Research Institute, a majority of workers' comp claims involve pain medications, including opioids.
Understanding the extent of the issue, and how it might be affecting your organization is critical for the health of your company as well as your employees.