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Opioids: Addiction, Escalation and Overdose

Sometimes, workplace injuries require serious medical interventions, including the use of powerful prescription medications. Opioids, a class of prescription medications that are all derived from the same plant as heroin, are a particularly powerful—and particularly dangerous—class of prescription painkiller, and one that’s become especially prominent as a treatment for injured workers. In fact, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the number of opioid prescriptions written has nearly tripled in the past three decades, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down.

In certain circumstances, opioids are a powerful tool that can ease a patient’s pain or aid in a speedy recovery from a traumatic injury. However, the risks associated with opioids—addiction, escalation to heroin or other drugs, and overdose—mean that employers need to remain vigilant about this pervasive, and potentially lethal, risk.

Dependence and Addiction
Patients who are prescribed opioids are often susceptible to dependence and addiction. Because the prolonged use of opioids results in a higher tolerance, the body’s endogenous opioids (which are opioids, like endorphins, that occur naturally in the body) become insufficient to stave off the physical symptoms of withdrawal.

Doctors are aware of and even expect many patients to develop a physical dependence if prescribed opioids for a prolonged period of time. Fortunately, doctors can account for this and create interventions that allow patients to break their dependence, usually by gradually lowering the dosage.

Unfortunately, physical dependence is often a precursor to addiction. Addiction occurs when a patient develops uncontrollable cravings for a drug and engages in risky or self-destructive behavior in order to acquire it. It’s worth noting that not all people who develop an addiction have a physical dependency on the drug, just as not all those who have a dependence on the drug will necessarily become addicted.

Heroin Use
One especially disturbing trend has been the rapid increase of both heroin use and heroin overdose. These increases coincide with the increased prevalence of opioid use and overdose in the United States. Though it is a disturbing trend, the correlation isn’t altogether surprising. Prescription opioids are chemically very similar to heroin, which is a naturally occurring drug derived from the opium poppy.

Two factors—the chemical similarity between heroin and prescription opioids and the increased availability of more potent forms of heroin flooding the country in recent years—have created an environment in which people see and use opioids and heroin interchangeably. When opioid users transition to heroin, either as a supplement to or as a cheap replacement for opioids, they then assume all of the risks associated with unregulated, illegal drugs. Unknown levels of purity can make it hard to ascertain the amount of heroin the body can tolerate, and additives used to “cut” the drug might themselves be lethal.

Overdose is an especially complicated risk when it comes to opioids. Most overdoses are usually the result of a patient taking a combination of drugs that can depress the central nervous system and depress breathing, resulting in suffocation. Case law has been varied, depending on both the state and circumstances of overdose. In some cases though, employers may be required to pay workers’ compensation benefits to the survivors of workers who have overdosed on opioids prescribed to treat a job-related injury.

But, even in cases where other drugs aren’t in play, patients can and still do overdose. One of the side effects of opioid use is impaired judgment and confusion. It’s not uncommon for a patient to take a dose and find him- or herself taking an additional dose, having forgotten about the earlier dose.

3 Ways to Curb Opioid Abuse
Fortunately, there are measures that employers can take to decrease the abuse of opioids among employees. Some are preventive, while others are designed to identify and combat opioid abuse in employees. Taken together, they represent a robust, comprehensive strategy for keeping employees safe and free from substance abuse.

1. Educate Workers: The best way to combat drug use is to stop it before it starts, and the best way to prevent opioid abuse is through education. The good news is that a number of surveys show that patients are becoming more invested in their health care treatment plans and are looking for more information. Use that as an opportunity to educate your workers on the dangers of opioid use.
2. Speak with Health Care Providers: If your company partners with a clinic, make sure to talk to doctors about the danger of overprescribing opioids. Sometimes, when dealing with severe acute pain or chronic pain for which other interventions have failed, opioids might be an appropriate treatment. Often, though, doctors may prescribe opioids to patients who might do just as well, or better, with other, less dangerous pain relievers. Make sure the doctors that you work with are aware of all treatment options and are diligent about preventing opioid abuse.
3. Gather Thorough Patient Histories: Certain risk factors—like depression, high blood pressure or obesity—radically increase the likelihood of dangerous side effects from opioid use. Gathering patient histories can alert doctors to these risk factors and allow them to alter treatment plans so that patients with a high risk are closely monitored for those ill effects.

Mitigate the Risks
Opioids can be a powerful tool to assist in the healing process, so eliminating them completely isn’t an option. For more information on how to mitigate the risk of opioid abuse, contact Warren G. Bender Co. today.

Filed under: Health — Jillian Bender-Cormier @ 4:13 pm August 1, 2018

Ticked Off: How to Avoid Lyme Disease

Different types of ticks live in the United States and while some can transmit diseases, others are only a nuisance. In general, infected blacklegged ticks can transmit the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

Symptoms of Lyme disease typically develop within two weeks of a tick bite and can include fevers, chills, swollen lymph nodes, neck stiffness, fatigue, headaches, and joint or muscle aches.

To avoid contracting Lyme disease, do the following:

• Wear light-colored clothing, including long-sleeved shirts and pants when in wooded areas. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and keep long hair tied back.

• Wash your body and clothing after all outdoor activities.

• Look periodically for ticks if you’ve been outdoors, especially if you’ve been in wooded areas or gardens.

• Remove ticks within 24 hours to greatly reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease.

• Check your pet’s coat if it’s been in an area known for ticks.

Remember to consult your health care provider as soon as you experience Lyme disease symptoms. If possible, send any ticks that you’ve removed to a public health laboratory in your area. Click here to learn more.

Filed under: Health,Health & Wellness — Jillian Bender-Cormier @ 11:15 pm June 20, 2018

New Study Links Money Problems to Workplace Injuries and Illnesses

A study recently published in the Journal of Finance suggests that companies facing money problems were more likely to experience workplace injuries, which, in turn, compounded those companies’ financial struggles.

Specifically, the study examined data gathered from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses and found a number of correlations:
• The workplace injury rate increased when the company received a negative cash flow shock.
• The workplace injury rate decreased when the company received a positive cash flow shock.
• As workplace injuries increased, company value decreased substantially.

Experts suggest that OSHA officials might use this information as they conduct investigations—using a company’s financial condition as a possible indicator of an increased likelihood of workplace injuries.
And, given how costly workplace injuries are to companies—in terms of workers’ compensation costs, safety repairs and upgrades, and fines—companies should remain vigilant about workplace safety, even in the face of a negative cash flow shock.

Filed under: Health,Health & Wellness,Property & Casualty — Jillian Bender-Cormier @ 1:09 pm October 12, 2016

Combining Wellness & Risk Management

Combine your workplace wellness program with your risk management and safety program and you could see big savings on your workers’ compensation costs.

Workers’ compensation is one of a business’ largest operational expenses—and costs are on the rise. According to the Insurance Information Institute, medical costs will account for up to 67 percent of total costs of workers’ compensation claims by 2019. (more…)

Filed under: Health,Workers' Compensation — Jillian Bender-Cormier @ 5:16 pm July 28, 2016

Workplace Germs

When the season changes from winter to spring, many people find themselves battling illness. Some health experts speculate that a lack of vitamin D during winter months may weaken immune systems, but regardless of the exact cause, doctors tend to see an uptick in respiratory illness around this time of year. At the workplace, this can spell trouble for a sick person’s co-workers, unless office hygiene is kept top of mind.

The typical employee’s workspace has more bacteria per square inch than an office toilet seat. Door handles, shared kitchen appliances, desks, phones and other private surfaces are also prime habitats for the viruses and bacteria that cause colds, the flu, strep throat, pneumonia and other illnesses.

Even if you keep your personal workspace tidy, it may not be clean. Unlike toilets—which tend to be cleaned and disinfected regularly—keyboards, phone receivers, desks, and even office and kitchen countertops often go overlooked. Consider this: Crumbs and coffee spills are capable of supporting mini eco-systems. Without a cleaning, your desk or phone can sustain millions of bacteria that could potentially cause illness.

The good news: Heightened awareness and hygiene efforts can go a long way in keeping your workplace clean. Keep the following points in mind and share them with your co-workers:
• Germ-busting at the workplace is a team effort. It only takes one person to infect healthy co-workers.
• Regular cleaning of personal workspaces kills bacteria and stops the spread of germs.
• Frequent cleaning of shared workspaces (door handles, coffee pots, light switches, work equipment, etc.) is essential in maintaining sanitary safety. Disinfection is the goal, so be sure to use a true disinfectant, not just an anti-bacterial product. Daily disinfection reduces bacteria levels by 99 percent, drastically lowering the risk of illness.
• Be considerate of others and cough or sneeze into tissues, your sleeve or the crook of your arm. Wash your hands often and sanitize using alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel. Consider having these in any common areas, including kitchens and washrooms.

Filed under: Health — Jillian Bender-Cormier @ 9:12 pm April 29, 2015