Impact of opioid addiction on public safety

First responders are not immune from the opioid crisis; here's what to know

Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Today, I want to talk about opioid abuse and addiction and its effects on us – public safety professionals.  

Let’s start with some numbers. According to some research, more than 50,000 people die each year from drug overdoses in the U.S. Over 30,000 of them die from prescription drugs or heroin. We don’t know how many of these are public safety employees. But make no mistake about it. We are not immune from this crisis. 

It can start with an injury or medical condition. Maybe even a job-related injury. A well-meaning physician prescribes an opioid painkiller to treat initial pain. Then the doctor keeps it coming to treat long-term, chronic pain. Patients who use opioids, even as prescribed, can become addicted. Opioids cause the brain to release dopamine, which triggers a desire to repeat the drug-taking experience.  

How can you know if one of our colleagues has this problem? Look for the warning signs. You may not see the physical symptoms, but you will see the results. Look for performance changes like absenteeism, low productivity, social isolation, and unexplained financial problems. Was this person recently injured or treated for a significant medical issue?  

At some point, a person may resort to illegal means or illegal substances to satisfy their needs. This type of addiction is not just a matter of choice or the absence of willpower.  

Effective medical treatment is the key to recovery. Opioid addiction treatment can take months and often requires long-term aftercare. Many public safety employees who overcome this addition can continue in their productive and successful careers. The earlier the problem is recognized, the better the result for everyone. 

Let’s not allow a perceived stigma of seeking help get in the way. Please take care of one another. Have a plan in place should one of our own become addicted to opioids.  

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off. 

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