Back injuries are the most common type of work injury and workers' compensation claim. As a byproduct of rehabbing, workers suffering from back injuries or chronic back pain are especially at risk of becoming addicted to opioid painkillers. Relief from the physical pain gives way to other types of suffering - the addiction itself and the personal aftermath such as depression, job loss, financial troubles, professional license sanctions, criminal charges and divorce.
Who gets addicted to prescription painkillers?
- Naturally, workers in blue collar jobs like truck driving, construction trades, warehouse, factory and maintenance work who are at higher risk of back injuries are in danger of getting addicted.
- Law enforcement and medical personnel also have a high incidence of back injuries and thus are susceptible to becoming hooked on prescription narcotics. In fact, health care professionals are at the highest risk for abuse of prescription drugs, in part because of easier access.
This may seem surprising, since police officers are familiar with the human toll of drug abuse, and nurses presumably understand the dangers from a medical perspective. It just goes to show that anyone can be become dependent on opioids, even highly educated doctors and nurses of The Mayo Clinic.
What are opioids?
Opioids are prescription-only pain medications that are derived from or chemically similar to opium and heroin. The list includes oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine and fentanyl. Opioids are high effective. For people with cancer and other debilitating illness, sometimes nothing else will block the pain. Unfortunately, these drugs are highly addictive.
The FDA reports that 50 percent of prescription opioid use is for treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain. After osteoarthritis, low back pain is the largest category - about 10 percent of all opioid prescriptions. Nationwide, millions of prescriptions are written for painkillers. And too many people believe that if a doctor prescribed it, it must be safe. That is just not true, as many injured emplolyees have learned the hard way.
If you or someone you love has suffered a back injury or needs back surgery because of a work-related ailment, there must be a discussion with the physcian about the potential for opioid addiction. You will need to recognize and be vigilant for the warning signs.