Fighting the Prescription Painkiller Epidemic in America

Render illustration of "OPIOID ADDICTION" script on head silhouette with cloudy sky as a background.

Fighting the Prescription Painkiller Epidemic in America

There is a major epidemic of prescription opioid use in America. According to the CDC, more than 14,000 people died from an opioid overdose in 2014. And the majority of deaths were from prescription opioids. Responding to data that has found that enough prescription painkillers were prescribed to medicate every American adult every four hours for one month in 2010, it’s safe to say that opioids are being drastically over-prescribed.

Why Are Opioid Painkillers Dangerous?

The main reason why opioids are dangerous is that they are overprescribed, making it easy for people to abuse them and get a hold of them from family and friends. Opioids affect the chemicals in the brain and are easily addictive. And they are also a gateway drug to heroin. Those who take opioid painkillers with or without a prescription quickly develop a tolerance and dependence to the medication. Tolerance is when someone needs to take more of a drug to achieve desired results. And dependence is when someone experiences symptoms of withdrawal when they stop using a drug.

What Are the Symptoms of an Opioid Painkiller Addiction?

When someone is addicted to a drug, legal or illicit, they will most likely try to hide it from family, friends, and their physician. But they will almost always display physical, behavioral, and emotional symptoms as a result of their drug use. Some of the common signs associated with opioid abuse include:

  • Stealing or selling prescriptions
  • Needing to increase dosage to achieve desired results
  • Lying about their opioid use
  • Not being able to stop or reduce drug use
  • Doctor shopping to receive multiple prescriptions
  • Poor decision-making
  • Excessive mood swings

Some behavioral symptoms include:

  • Increase or decrease in sleep
  • Appearing high, unusually energetic, or sedated
  • Confusion
  • Constricted pupils
  • Slowed breathing
  • Constipation

Who is at Risk for an Opioid Addiction?

Anyone can become addicted to opioids, even those with a valid prescription who have the intention of using the medication properly. Opioids are naturally addicting drugs and can affect anyone. The factors that lead to an increased risk of developing an opioid addiction include a family history of substance abuse, depression or anxiety, long-term use of prescription painkillers, and using multiple drugs for various symptoms like anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.

What Can Employers Do to Prevent Opioids in the Workplace?

Many companies use basic five-panel drug tests in their workplace, but more should look into using an expanded drug test to cover common prescription drugs like benzodiazepines and opioid painkillers. This is especially the case for all safety-sensitive industries, like the transportation industry, where workers may be handling heavy machinery or driving vehicles in public and for private customers. When someone is behind the wheel of a vehicle and is under the influence of opioids, they are putting everyone’s safety at risk. This is because opioids have sedative qualities that can impair someone’s ability to function normally.

The Impact of Opioids in the Workplace

As an employer, you need to protect your bottom line as well as the safety of your employees and customers. Especially true for the transportation industry, drug tests that screen for opioid pain medications are essential for preventing the negative effects of opioid abuse. Here are a few examples of how opioid painkiller use has impacted the workplace: Injured workers who are prescribed just one opioid painkiller medication have an average total claim that costs four times that of workers with similar claims who aren’t on opioids; a worker’s risk of disability doubles if they are prescribed a week’s worth of opioids after an injury; and employers are responsible financially when an injured worker with an opioid prescription dies of an overdose.

For more information on adequate drug testing, and ensuring opioids don’t have a negative impact in your workplace, contact the professionals at Consortium Pool who offer one of the most comprehensive DOT-compliant drug testing services in the nation.