The True Cost of Opioid Abuse

Author: IAFF Staff

April 18, 2018

The opioid (painkiller) crisis began in the late ‘90s, but the country is still feelings its effects, despite many efforts to combat it. According to the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), the economic cost of the opioid crisis was $504 billion in 2015.

But what is the real cost, the one that doesn’t involve a dollar sign? Fire fighters are among the many groups that suffer from pain from injuries that can eventually leave them in the grips of drug abuse, especially opioid abuse. Opioids are intended to relieve pain, but the feelings of euphoria often encourages drug-seeking behavior and over time, higher doses are needed to produce the desired effects.

A group of fire fighters surrounding the side of a fire truck

Opioid abuse does not discriminate and knows no boundaries. It can become more and more expensive to continue using these substances, but sadly, opioid abuse can cost much more than just money.

Physical Side Effects of Opioid Abuse

Opioids are substances that bind to opioid receptors in the brain to reduce feelings of pain. Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin are a few of the common brands prescribed for acute and chronic pain, but they also pose the risk of abuse, dependence and addiction. This is especially true if they’re abused over a long period of time. Illicit synthetic opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl, can be just as dangerous as prescription painkillers. Some of the common effects of opioid abuse include:

  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Drowsiness
  • Paranoia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Confusion
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid breathing
  • Liver or brain damage

Not everyone responds to these effects in the same way. For some, these symptoms may be minor, but for others, they can be fatal.

Opioid Overdose Risks

Symptoms of overdose include respiratory depression, small pupils and unconsciousness. Sadly, even if you survive an overdose, you may still be at risk for conditions including pulmonary edema and permanent brain damage. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), in 2016:

  • 42,249 people died from an opioid overdose
  • 17,087 deaths resulted from overdosing on commonly prescribed opioids
  • 19,413 overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids other than methadone
  • 15,469 deaths were attributed to a heroin overdose
  • Five times more opioid overdose deaths occurred than in 1999

Getting Help for Opioid Abuse

The IAFF Center of Excellence offers treatment for substance abuse and addiction, including those involving opioids. And because we understand that substance abuse in fire fighters often occurs alongside a mental health disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we can treat both conditions. Our Center was designed for fire fighters, by fire fighters, and includes personalized programs and compassionate care. If you’re an IAFF member struggling with opioid abuse, or you know one who is, call today to speak with someone who can help.

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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