By Joshua Huff
Injuries throughout the fenestration and glazing industry are common. That’s because the conditions faced by workers in these industries are inherently hazardous. Glaziers work on large, tall objects that can fall due to improperly secured glass. They can also be injured by exposure to solvents, falls from ladders and scaffolding, broken glass or sharp instruments.
When it comes to these injuries, they have one thing in common: pain.
To treat pain, doctors typically prescribe opioids, says John Greenwood, co-founder and chief operating officer of Goldfinch Health. He presented his findings during the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) webinar Prevent the First Dose, Prevent the Overdose: How the Latest Science Can Treat Pain Better Without Relying on Opioids.
Prescriptive opioids are often used to treat moderate to severe pain. The drug is generally safe when taken for a short time as prescribed by a doctor. However, they can make people feel relaxed and high, which is how they become so addictive. As a result, overdoses and deaths are common with opioid misuse.
To underscore the prevalence of opioids in the medical field, Greenwood reminisced about a case that he worked in which a worker went to the hospital for shoulder replacement surgery. Despite being under the care of a respected physician who was well versed on the dangers of opioids and addiction, the medical team insisted on using the drug as the primary way to treat pain, says Greenwood.
The worker understood the dangers of opioids. His father, an electrician, had undergone knee replacement surgery and used opioids for pain treatment. His addiction lasted two years. His relationship with his son hasn’t recovered.
Greenwood says that Goldfinch Health got involved to ensure that the worker did not fall into the same trap. It was as simple as having a conversation with the physician.
“To that physician’s credit, he updated his care protocols and that patient, after three weeks, was off of prescriptions,” says Greenwood. “He was originally told that it was going to be a three-month recovery.”
The worker only received two opioid pills. The medical team had previously written him a prescription for 60.
The key is to optimize the patient and use “good” science to reduce opioid exposure, Greenwood says.
“Opioids are not good at treating your pain,” adds Greenwood. “They are good at helping some people experience a sense of euphoria or ambivalence towards pain.”
Anyone who takes opioids can become addicted. As many as one in four patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggles with opioid addiction. Greenwood adds that nearly 10% of all adults in the U.S. suffer from a substance abuse disorder.
Work-related injuries and stress can have “severe impacts on mental health and without proper support may lead to substance abuse and even suicide,” says Jim Frederick, deputy assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Once addicted to opioids, it can be hard to stop. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2016, more than 11.5 million Americans reported misusing prescription opioids.
The CDC also reports that more than 932,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. In 2020, nearly 75% of drug overdose deaths involved an opioid. The CDC says that overdose deaths involving opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic opioids (like fentanyl), have increased by more than eight times since 1999.
That increase is a result of doctors recklessly prescribing opioids to patients, who in turn become addicted and misuse the drug to devastating effect. The CDC found that more than 191 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed to U.S. patients in 2017.
For the workers who need surgery following a workplace injury, Greenwood says to go in with a plan. Above all, ensure that you tell the doctor that you want to avoid opioids at all costs.
“Notify them of your concerns about opioids,” says Greenwood. “Ask the doctor, ‘I want to avoid opioids as much as possible and not be in extreme pain. What can we do now to ensure that?’ That is a question that does not get asked. I can ensure that will get the physician to pause.”
Greenwood adds that you should ask for Tylenol, Ibuprofen or a long-acting injectable before the procedure begins.
The best overall thing that you can do for yourself is to be your advocate, says Greenwood.
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