When you hear the words “opioid addict,” what picture does that conjure up in your mind? Is it someone who has needle marks on their arms, someone who has a face that’s completely covered in scabs, someone living on the streets and begging for money to continue their high? If you answered yes to any one of those, you’re not alone. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse defines opioids as a class of drugs that include illegal heroin and fentanyl. So, the image you have is right; however, opioids account for so much more than that, including pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as OxyContin, hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine, and many others. Scary, right?!

When opioid medications were first introduced, patients and doctors thought they were non-addictive. Boy, if only that were the case. Unfortunately, it’s now been proven that opioid medications are highly addictive and dangerous. Because this is such a hot topic right now and one we’re talking with employers about a lot, I wanted to do a blog to break it down a bit. Why is it so important I do this? Well, because, in reality, you may be living with, friends with, or a coworker to someone misusing opioids at this very moment.

What are the basics of opioids?

Opioids have dangerous effects if too much is consumed or when combined with other substances, such as alcohol, benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium), muscle relaxants, hypnotics (Ambien, Lunesta), or other medical conditions that impact respiration or heart function.

How often do overdoses happen?

An opioid overdose can happen to anyone — those with an opioid-use disorder and those without.

Here are the scary statistics:

Now, remember what I said. Overdosing on opioids can happen to ANYONE!

What are the signs of opioid misuse?

To know if a family member, friend, co-worker — or anyone for that matter — is struggling with opioid misuse, there are some common signs to look for, including the following:

How does it affect the workplace?

Opioid misuse by employees can impact the workplace in a number of ways, to include the cost of healthcare and workers’ compensation insurance. The average lost-time workers’ compensation claim for workers using opioid painkillers can be about 900 percent higher than the cost for workers who do not take opioid painkillers. The National Safety Council states the prolonged use has been associated with poorer health outcomes, longer periods of disability and recovery, and higher medical costs.

What can employers do?

That’s the million dollar question, but we do have some tips: 

I would also encourage all employers to download the National Safety Council’s free Prescription Drug Employer Kit for resources and tips pertaining to the use and abuse of prescription painkillers.

As I mentioned, opioid misuse can affect people you’d never guess. There’s a misconception on opioid addicts, and that needs to stop. Remember, it could be someone you know.