The opioid epidemic is everywhere. It’s in the news, in your community, in your workplace and perhaps in your family. President Trump has even declared opioids a public health emergency.
As I read articles and talked with the experts who will speak on this topic at our upcoming Alliance event on July 24 – The Opioid Epidemic: Its Impact in the Workplace– I was startled to learn how this scary group of drugs has come to hurt so many people.
It’s likely that you know someone who has used opioids. In fact, many people who later become addicted have their first experience with an opioid prescribed by a physician to treat severe pain.
So when my husband experienced severe pain, my biggest worry was that opioids might become part of his treatment plan.
Living with Chronic Pain
My healthy, 31-year-old husband loves to golf. Weekly golf leagues and weekend golf outings are always part of his summer.
But last July, he was struck with sudden, severe back pain. He couldn’t walk, sit or even hold our toddler son. Golfing was out of the question.
He waited and waited to get in to see a doctor, finally got an MRI and was told he had a herniated disc in his lower back. He attended physical therapy, went to the chiropractor and took prescription medicine muscle relaxers but nothing seemed to ease the pain. A steroid shot did not improve the situation. Over time the pain traveled to his leg.
Finally, after six long months of being unable to function, he was told he could have a surgery known as a “discectomy” to remove the herniated disc and relieve the pinched nerve that affected his ability to move or sit.
We were relieved, but my mind immediately went to what would happen post-surgery. Would opioids be part of the picture?
The Dangers of Opioids
An opioid is a broad term for prescription narcotics that help alleviate severe pain. They are effective when used as directed by a physician, but they have been shown to cause side effects and may lead to addiction.
Consider these facts:
- Ninety-nine percent of patients receive opioids after surgery, which is typically their first lifetime exposure to the drug.
- One in 15 people become long-term opioid users after surgery.
- The majority of drug overdose deaths — more than six out of ten – involve an opioid.
- Seventy-eight Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
Doctors and patients alike have recently become more aware of the dangers of opioids. Yet patients like my husband still sometimes need opioids to get relief from terrible pain.
Luckily my story has a happy ending. My husband had his back surgery and woke up with immediate relief.
In fact, once the pain from his pinched nerve was gone, he felt so good that he didn’t even need to take an opioid, although the doctor prescribed one for him. Instead he stuck with alternating ibuprofen and Tylenol to cope with the pain from the surgery.
I was super thankful. Even today, I remember how scared I was about what could happen if he took opioids.
And I remember how many others live every day with an addiction that started with an opioid prescription.
Employers Have a Role
While an opioid addiction may seem like an individual crisis, employers have an important role in fighting this epidemic.
Opioid abuse can cost employers up to $18 billion per year and significantly increase employee turnover. Absenteeism is a big part of the problem, with opioid users taking 50 percent more time off.
Employers typically provide health insurance that includes prescription medication coverage. That gives them an opportunity to educate employees and their families about the dangers of opioids. They can also work with their pharmacy benefit manager so opioid prescriptions are properly managed.
Simply having employer-sponsored health insurance made a difference for our family, since my husband’s employer-sponsored health plan covered his costly surgery and the related care. When people lack coverage for the care needed to get long-term pain relief, they look for other methods to make the pain bearable, which can include long-term opioid use.
Our Event Will Help You Make a Difference
I urge all employers who offer insurance coverage to their employees to attend The Alliance’s upcoming one-day event on The Opioid Epidemic: Its Impact in the Workplace on Tuesday, July 24 from 8 – 4 p.m.
The event offers perspectives from all individuals that deal with opioids on a daily basis, including:
- An ex-DEA agent
- An ex-addict and now employer activist
- Providers and Pharmacists
- Communication Experts
- Alternative Pain Relief Providers
- And more
This event is free and will offer networking, breakfast and lunch as well as an abundance of take-home value for employers. You’ll get tools you can use to change how you handle opioid use and abuse at your worksite.
If you think opioid addiction can’t or won’t happen to you or someone you know, you’re closing your eyes to a very real problem. This is your opportunity to be prepared to support employees and loved ones who are coping with the opioid epidemic.
In addition to her work at The Alliance, Tierney is an active member on The Business Forum, previously serving on the board and acting as senior chair for the ATHENA committee. Tierney also participates in the Advertising Federation of Madison and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network of Madison.
Tierney earned her bachelor's degree of business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with an emphasis in information systems and a certification on the Project Management Body of Knowledge.
Read blog posts by Tierney.
Latest posts by Tierney Anderson
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