12:52 am August 2, 2018

Opioid Use in the Workplace: Employer Tips to Make Positive Change in Chronic Pain

Source: Brian Boyle

It’s estimated roughly 100 million American adults are suffering from chronic pain. With a $560-$635 billion annual spend in medical costs and lost productivity and no seemingly good alternatives it’s no wonder why many of those in pain have turned to and become addicted to opioid pain killers. Because of this extremely high number, roughly one third of the U.S. population, it goes without saying employers have a vested interest in fighting this epidemic and providing viable solutions for opioid use in the workplace.

What you may not realize is that pain and function don’t equate. Every day, there are likely many of your employees who are still working and who are likely in pain but just haven’t reported it… yet! Do you have a plan for managing that pain and keeping people at work in your workplace injury prevention program? This can include the employee who experiences new or acute symptoms of pain or discomfort.

Whether work related or not, did you know that if mismanaged, return to work can and will be delayed if an opioid is prescribed? And even worse, if that pain becomes chronic, there is mounting research to show that opioids are not effective at all in treating and managing long term or chronic pain. This is where employers can take charge and make positive change.
Employers can and should partner with local health care providers who are committed to best practices and have clear guidelines when it is best practice to prescribe opioids versus prescribing non-opioid pain medications when an employee is having pain.

Even if the injury did not occur at work and the employee seeks medical treatment outside of work, having best practices information readily available to all employees can go a long way to directing appropriate and proper care. Having early return to work policies which allow employees to return to work at less than full duty can make a significant difference in reducing costs due to loss time and increase the likelihood that an employee will return to work at all.

Having pain relieving options available onsite for all employees can also go a long way to help reduce chronic pain. Even better, these options can be provided to all at very little expense and fall into the category of first-aid treatment under OSHA guidelines.

  • Having topical pain relief gels and ointments available onsite
  • Offering strength training/body conditioning classes
  • Providing access to ice and heat packs
  • Offering educational classes on topics such as body mechanics and ergonomics
  • Providing access to cognitive behavioral therapy (also known as talk therapy)
  • Offering Tai Chi/deep breathing/postural awareness training
  • Allowing for micro breaks during the work day
  • Providing non-rigid braces and neoprene sleeves to employees who are responsible for material handling or are in physically demanding positions

Although this list is by no means comprehensive, it provides a good starting point for substitutes to pain medications that employers can provide to their employees. And at little to no cost in comparison to the loss associated with chronic pain and opioid use, it’s easy to see why employers should be at the forefront of taking the stand to help fight chronic pain and to end the opioid use epidemic.

If you are still unsure of how to begin or have questions about the options listed above, an onsite therapist is a great resource and can provide detailed instruction in most, if not all, of the above listed alternatives to pain medications. Contact WorkWell for more information.

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