With opiate use on the rise in companies, I am amazed that more companies are not incorporating a comprehensive pain management program into their employee health, safety and wellbeing initiatives. Studies show that employees are incurring most of their pain and injury while at work, or the result of their work. Research has determined that when compared to other work related disorders, 60% of employees have musculoskeletal related disorders (MSDs). MSDs are a huge problem for companies today. Companies are paying out thousands of dollars for MSD related claim costs. The pain associated with MSDs is often also associated with escalated drug use, such as the use of opiates for pain management.
The cause of today’s opiate problem is multi-faceted. It may have begun before employment. Again, research has shown that a large part of the opiate problem is because of employee chronic pain. Employees with chronic pain: are missing days at work, have generally had surgery, masking their pain to earn a living and take care of their family, wanting to gain more energy, think more clearly, and generally feel happier than depressed. And yes, some abuse the medication to simply get high.
How can a company avoid the above scenarios? One of the most important ways is to provide early intervention with employees who have low level aches and pain by preventive hands-on training through alternative non-drug, non-medical, non-surgical approaches to pain. Alongside this hands-on approach, employers should provide employees with educational strategies to maintain good work habits and create a community of employees who can recognize triggers and self-correct in the work environment.
When low level aches and pains aren’t recognized or known by the employer, the pain will most likely escalate to higher levels accompanied by more frequent and intense soreness, strain, and increasingly missed days of work. I recommend to my client employers that they use surveys every few months to see where their employees are at and “Catch It,” (the pain), before it goes into more serious conditions like: chronic back pain, sciatica, MSDs and repetitive strain injury (RSI) that result in higher costs, absenteeism and drug use. The two surveys I found helpful are; MYMOP2 with MYMOP2 follow-up, and Brief Pain Inventory.
Prescribing of opiates has been on the rise for the management of employee pain. Surgery and drugs are after-the-fact interventions that do not teach, educate, or get at the cause of the MSDs and RSI. These approaches most often cause more problems, and the need for additional surgeries and drug abuse. They are not the answer to the dilemma.
“Catching It” means to install a non-drug pain management regime for your employees experiencing pain. Alternative approaches that are preventive, educational, and long lasting are on the rise. Employers need to invite alternative non-drug modalities into the workplace that are proven affective to eliminate back and neck pain, MSDs and RSI.
One example is the Alexander Technique, which has been around since the early 1900s. The Alexander Technique has been proven to reduce and eliminate back-pain by 87%. (British Medical Journal, 2008) It is also a preventive alternative ergonomic method that uses hands-on techniques and education that can be applied on-site and that directly translates to employee work tasks and environments. The AT provides a whole-body approach to bending, lifting, and transporting patients without costly equipment. Certification in the Alexander Technique requires three years of study.
Acupuncture is another non-drug alternative for pain management. When done on a regular basis by a licensed professional, it can be very affective for neck and back issues. Acupuncturists also train for several years.
Meditation practice can calm employees and help them cope and reduce stress, helping to make better choices.
Employers should also consider utilizing the services of a substance abuse prevention specialist to educate the employees. It has been proven that employees are open to being educated about drug use, and education will also help employees co-mingle peacefully with their co-workers. Education will also help support employees who are struggling with drug addiction, as well as aid them in their recovery.
The goal is a pain–free, drug-free work environment with productive employees and lower costs for the company. It is wise to provide a comprehensive pain prevention management program that uses early intervention techniques and can also treat chronic pain through a hands-on approach and educational training that interfaces with the work life and home life of your employees.
“Our nation is in the grip of a devastating opioids crisis. Overdose rates are staggering, overwhelming the capacity of first responders and care facilities. So many of our young people are sick or dying, with consequences that will reverberate for generations. Alarmingly, research suggests that the vast majority of opioids addictions originate with a prescription for pain management.” Victor J. Dzau, MD, President, National Academy of Medicine