The Hidden Danger of On-the-Job Injuries

Author: IAFF Staff

September 19, 2018

Firefighting is a physically demanding job. Because of the intensely physical (and often) dangerous nature of this work, thousands of fire fighters are injured on the job every year. In 2016 alone, the National Fire Protection Association reported 62,085 fire fighter injuries. In many of these cases, fire fighters must receive medical care for these injuries, which can include a prescription opioid for pain management. While this medication can help manage your discomfort in the short term and allow you to return to the work you love, it can also lead to addiction.

Understanding and Preventing Opioid Addiction

In recent years, opioid addiction has affected people across the United States and Canada at an alarming rate. A significant number of those who become addicted first began taking opioids for injuries — much like many fire fighters do today. Even when prescribed by a doctor, opioid use for pain management can quickly spiral into addiction.

Once ingested, opioids suppress moderate-to-severe pain by binding to pain receptors in the brain. This elicits feelings of relaxation, calm and well-being. While opioid use can relieve discomfort in the short term, it impacts the brain’s ability to produce feel-good neurotransmitters over time. Using these substances for extended periods or in larger amounts than medically recommended will often create dependence. This means that the body and brain become so accustomed to the presence of the drug that people experience withdrawal symptoms once they stop taking it. These symptoms can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening.

While most who are prescribed opioids will not develop an addiction, the risk of addiction affects everyone. Commonly prescribed and misused opioid medications include:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
  • Morphine (Kadian, Avinza)
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

Even taking your pain medications as directed can make you addicted to opioids. Because of this, it’s important to stay vigilant and self-aware when you or a loved one is prescribed any opioid drug. If you notice any of these signs of opioid addiction in you or someone you love, it might be time to seek help:

  • Intense desire to use opioids
  • Inability to control, reduce or stop opioid use
  • Spending large amounts of time and money to obtain opioids
  • Legal problems involving opioid use
  • Trouble meeting personal or professional obligations

When you reduce or stop taking an opioid medication, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. These can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening (in extreme cases), and may include:

  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Seeking Help

If you’re struggling with opioid addiction in the wake of an injury, know that it isn’t your fault, but it is your responsibility to do something about it. You aren’t broken or weak-willed. The prescription drugs that you were given have a chemical and physical hold on you that’s detrimental to your well-being. While you may feel hopeless now, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Professional treatment can help you overcome opioid addiction and allow you to get back to the work and life you love.  

A man stretches hi arm to prevent on-the-job injuries as a fire fighter.

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction after an on-the-job injury, the IAFF Center of Excellence can help. As a facility designed by fire fighters, for fire fighters, our professionals are here to help you take back your life. Reach out to a representative today for more information.

Medical Disclaimer: The IAFF Center of Excellence aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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