A prescription bottle open.
By
Cal Beyer, Vice President, Workforce Risk and Worker Wellbeing

Over the recent holiday break, I asked each of our five adult children (ages 20 to 29) to please watch the Hulu miniseries Dopesick starring Michael Keaton. I said it was the only Christmas present I wanted from my family. My wife and I watched it as well. Our family agreed we would talk about the implications of the topic.

Set in impoverished, hardscrabble Appalachia coal country, Dopesick reveals the dark secrets of America’s opioid crisis. The roots of the opioid crisis trace back to the late 1990s with changes in philosophy about pain management and aggressive sales strategies to promote oxycontin as non-addictive in countering “breakthrough pain.” NPR summarized the series in an article to describe which parts were facts vs. fiction in the miniseries.

When we hear about opioids and overdoses, we rationalize this as an urban problem and the addiction problems stem from people making bad choices. However, there is no single pathway to an opioid addiction. The harsh reality is that opioids are an equal opportunity destroyer.

Opioid addiction cuts across every demographic of our U.S. society, albeit with disparities by age, gender, race/ethnicity, and geography.

The U.S. has approximately 4.4 percent of the world’s population, yet accounts for approximately 80 percent of the global opioid consumption. The consequences are shocking and horrifying.

According to SAFEProject, at least 275 deaths per day are attributable to opioids overdoses in the U.S. The number of overdose deaths in the U.S. has more than doubled in the past 5 years and increased by over 30 percent during the pandemic.

Two Leading Gateways for Addiction

It may be surprising to learn that two leading gateways for a new opioid addiction are surgery and occupational injuries.

In January 2022, I was invited to co-present at the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America Surety & Risk Management Conference. The topic was Waging a Counterattack on Opioids in the Workplace and at Home. CEO Brand Newland from Goldfinch Health, a graduate of our BrokerTech Ventures Accelerator cohort, was a co-presenter at AGC and highlighted opioid-sparing techniques of Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) protocols. Newland specifically emphasized non-opioid pain management alternatives, as well as multimodal pain relief.

On the eve before I flew to deliver this co-presentation, our 23-year-old daughter left a family dinner at our home to return to her apartment. When she arrived, she fell and fractured her ankle. She wanted to avoid COVID-crowded emergency rooms, so she went to an urgent care facility. After x-rays confirmed the fracture, the doctor said, “you’re going to experience a high degree of pain in the days ahead.” My daughter was surprised to be asked “so, what pain medication do you think you’d want me to prescribe?”

She replied, “is it possible to receive a non-opioid medication?”, to which the doctor countered as almost from the script of Dopesick, “I’m concerned if you experience ‘breakthrough pain’ that it won’t be enough for you.’”

When she called to give us an update, she exclaimed, “can you imagine if we hadn’t all just watched Dopesick?” She said “Dad, keep teaching people about these hazards. This problem is real, and it’s so scary to think if people don’t know the risks.”

Combatting the Opioid Crisis

I shared this story from the podium at AGC to let everyone know that we must be on guard to protect our families and other loved ones from the America’s ongoing ravaging and insidious opioid crisis.

The opioid crisis is a multifaceted issue that will take everyone to solve — from the pharmaceutical companies to employer support and yes, even you. One thing I recommend you should do is when facing pain medication ask the tough questions of your doctor and make sure you really need an opioid prescription before taking it. Also, Goldfinch Health offers a list of questions to ask your surgeon and the nonprofit organization, Shatterproof, offers guidance and 12 questions to ask your doctor before taking opioids. We don’t want you to be a number in this crisis.

Employers can help too! I encourage you to check out the National Safety Council Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit.

The opioid crisis is complicated. Opioids pose various risks for your organization and your workforce and their families; so, please reach out to us at any time with questions. We’re here to help!