Today, 52 people will die due to opioid pain medication (National Safety Council, 2016).
It began as a sharp pain in my lower back when I was 24. Within a month, I couldn’t bend over. An MRI would reveal three slipped discs between L3 and S1. A first and second medical opinion recommended immediate surgery. After awaking post-surgery, the nurse told me the operation had taken twice as long due to a misplaced surgical cloth. They’d had to reopen the sutures to look for the cloth, found it in the wound, and then re-stapled the two 9-inch cuts at the terminus of the spine.
The hospital’s pharmacy gave me a brown bag of medications, including a large bottle of pain pills. To sleep at night, I’d take two pills. During the day, I’d take another pill every four hours or so. Due to the required physical therapy, I was off work for 90 days. The pills were refilled and refilled again.
I’m not sure when the pain stopped. Maybe the 60-day mark? Then I noticed I couldn’t sleep without a pill. My legs would shake. If I did get to sleep, I’d awake counting down the four hours until the next pills. I was hooked and knew it.
I’d quit smoking cigarettes when I was 21 and knew the mental and physical pain of quitting. So I “knew” I could beat the pills as well. I cut pills into halves and quarters and day-by-day reduced the dosage. My legs shook all night and I was dizzy most of the time. Slowly the symptoms went away.
I got lucky and I know it. Since that time, 14 years ago, I haven’t taken anything harder than Tylenol. I touched the devil and once was enough.
Maybe some EHS pros don’t see opioids as an issue. Or at least a safety issue. But with the rates of opioid use (and misuse), it affects every company. Today, 3.600 people will begin to misuse opioids for the first time. The United States has 4.3% of the world’s population and consumes 81% of the entire supply of oxycodone. And we are now more likely to die due to unintentional poisoning (including prescription medication) than by a motor vehicle crash.
What can you do? Want to know more? Here is the latest from the National Safety Council.