Taking over-the-counter medications for dealing with post-workout soreness is a fairly common practice. But mixing over-the-counter pain medications with prescription pain medications such as opioids significantly raises the risk of a fatal overdose.
Such potentially fatal reactions are just one aspect of what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Safety Council (NSC) have called an “epidemic” of prescription drug overdoses in the United States. And those organizations have compiled some telling statistics to back up that claim. According to the CDC, about 45 people die in the United States each day from prescription pain relief overdoses. That is over three times the number of people who die each day from occupational injuries.
Prescription drug overdoses now outrank traffic crashes as the leading cause of injury death in the U.S. Prescription pain relievers are believed to contribute to more deaths than illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin combined. Another sobering statistic cited by the NSC is that the amount of pain killers prescribed in the U.S. in 2010 was sufficient medicate every adult in the nation 24 hours a day for one month. And since 1999, the number of people who have died from prescription drug overdoses each year in the U.S. has more than doubled.
Most fatal drug overdoses result from pain relief medications also known as opioid analgesics. Commonly prescribed opioids include oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and buprenorphine. According to statistics compiled by the NSC, 38,329 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses in 2010. Nearly half (16,651) involved prescription opioids.
To be obtained legally, these medications must be prescribed by a doctor. According to statistics from the NSC, through the last half of the 1990s and into the new century, doctors, dentists and other healtcare providers prescribed opioid pain relievers with increasing frequency as a part of patient care. From 2000 to 2009, the number of opioid prescriptions per 100 people went up by 35 percent.
In terms of geographic distribution, a report issued at the NSC 2013 Congress and Expo points to an association that the states with the largest sales of opioid painkillers also show the highest mortality rates from them.
What does all this have to do with personal training? Fitness professionals do have a stake in their clients’ health and well-being. It is incumbent upon a trainer to keep up with issues in public health and to be cognizant of the harmful effects of bothover-the-counter pain killers, prescribed analgesics, and combinations thereof.
While we often think of illegal drug use as a public health issue, largely through enculturation, many of the NSC’s recommendations with drugs that are prescribed legally. What’s more, many of the associated problems, the agency says, are not related to illegal dealing in these drugs. Rather, It’s more often a case of people obtaining the drugs from people they know: family, friends, even co-workers. In addition, the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that over 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers obtained them from friends or relatives, whereas approximately 5 percent got them from a drug dealer or over the Internet.
Some specific examples mentioned at sessions at the 2013 NSC Congress are:
- People, including teens, search the medicine cabinets of family and friends and take a number of pills, maybe five or six, that might go unnoticed.
- In at least one known instance, an abuser used real estate open houses as a means to find drugs in medicine cabinets,
- At a Texas police department, an employee was found illegally selling prescription pain relievers to a co-worker. When questioned, the employee state that she thought she was doing her co-worker a favor because the employee could not get the prescription pain relievers herself. In addition, the employee she was selling the drugs because she needed the money.
What Can Be Done?
The NSC has put forth several suggestions for turning the tide of prescription drug abuse. At the workplace level (and even at home), some of those include:
- Not sharing prescription pain relievers with others. And keep in mind, it’s illegal to sell them.
- Dont keep old pills. If you received a prescription for pain relievers and didn’t use the full amount prescribed, look for a community drug disposal program to get rid of the leftovers properly.
- Store prescription pain relievers in places where an abuser wouldn’t easily find them.
- Don’t self medicate. Some people keep prescription pain relievers they don’t use, and when a different type of pain is noticed, they revert to taking those pills.
- Always seek a doctor’s help with pain management.
- For employers, ensure workers are aware of employee assistance programs (EAPs) that can help them with a prescription pain reliever addiction.