Workplace injuries happen everyday, and more often than not, the injured worker will be prescribed an opioid as a way to help ease the pain and lasting issues associated with the immediate injury. Whether the ultimate treatment for the injury involves surgery, physical therapy, or another treatment, medical professionals often turn to opioids like Vicodin or Oxycodone to placate the injured worker’s reported pain.
Risk of Opioid Dependence
As well as they may work to reduce pain levels, the unfortunate truth about opioids is that they are highly addictive, and they have been shown to increase pain sensitivity, called Opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH), which creates a vicious cycle of increased pain, increased dosage, increased tolerance and increased risk of dependence and overdose. Several studies, including one in JAMA, show that as many as one-third of workers who begin using opioids for a workplace injury become addicted to them — which can hinder both the treatment and recovery for the injury, as well as their timetable to return to work and living a productive life.
One report from the CDC found that among adults (non-cancer patients) who received a prescription for opioids, the likelihood of chronic opioid use started after just three days of the medication, and increased with each additional day of medication supplied. The most dramatic increase among these patients was seen after the fifth day of taking opioids, and the highest probability of continued opioid use at 1 and 3 years was seen among patients who were prescribed long-acting opioids like Fentanyl or Morphine.
Increased Time Off Work
The research is strong enough that some medical groups have begun recommending against prescribing opioids for less severe injuries, as developing an addiction after a workplace injury has become a growing concern in industries around the world. Although some medical communities may see opioids as the best (or only) option for getting injured workers back to work — particularly for injuries that can’t be resolved with surgery and will likely linger for an extended period of time — opioid use triples a worker’s time spent on disability, on average.
Considering that the time spent on disability doesn’t even factor in other possible side effects of becoming dependent on opioids, the risks associated with the popular painkillers can make them a dangerous choice for anyone suffering from a workplace injury. Although they may seem necessary for a physician who has “tried everything”, finding an alternative source of pain relief could spare employees, employers, and workers compensation carriers all over the world from the weeks, months, or even years of suffering that opioids can lead to.
There are evidence-based alternative treatments for pain that focus on changing one’s beliefs and removing fear around pain – altering the pain experience. An effective and integrated pain recovery program, like Roots Chronic Pain Recovery, utilizes approaches including mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, EMDR, and art therapy, and integrates yoga, tai chi, physical therapy, family therapy, and other modalities.
“The goal is to get people moving again”, says Dr. Michael Aquino, PT, DPT, “The less people move out of fear of further injury, the more pain they will experience.”
Roots Chronic Pain Recovery has developed a mind-body approach to treat chronic pain and opioid dependency. With personalized treatment and an interdisciplinary team, we can help you regain control of your body – and your life.