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How the Opioid Epidemic Extends Beyond Overdoses

Every day, more than 130 people lose their lives to opioid-related abuse. Overdoses killed more than 47,000 people in 2017 alone, and about 1.7 million people suffer opioid-related abuse disorders. About 4-6% of people who misuse prescription painkillers will eventually transition to heroin.

Over nearly two decades, the opioid epidemic has claimed more than 30,000 lives. It’s estimated that the epidemic may claim another half-a-million people over the next ten years.

While much of the media’s focus has been on overdose deaths, the opioid epidemic is causing injuries in more ways than one.

Opioid-Related Accidents

Opioids are often prescribed to control pain after a work- or car-related accident. Those who work in dangerous fields are also at a higher risk of developing opioid-related substance abuse disorders and turning to heroin, fentanyl or other synthetic drugs.

The use of these drugs greatly increases the risk of accidents in the workplace. Users often suffer from slow reaction times, poor coordination and impaired thinking, which greatly increases the risk of a workplace accident.

Those who work in dangerous industries are more likely to suffer opioid-related accidents. A report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) found that workers in quarrying, construction, and mining accounted for more than 24% of all opioid-related deaths among workers.

Opioid abuse also greatly increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents. In fact, the use of opioids doubles the risk of a fatal, two-car accident.

More people are getting behind the wheel while impaired by opioids. Research from more than 36,000 fatal car accidents has shown that the number of drivers with opioids in their blood has significantly increased over the last two decades. Opioid use greatly affects the user’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.

The Long-Term Effects of Opioid Use

People take opioids to control pain caused by diseases and accidents. Unfortunately, when the symptoms of opioid damage eventually present themselves, users and doctors often attribute them to the initial condition and overlook the effects of the medications themselves.

When opioids are used extensively and over the long-term, it can affect virtually all of the body’s systems, including gastrointestinal, respiratory, immune, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and endocrine. In fact, continued opioid use has been linked to a 77% increased risk of cardiovascular issues.

People may experience gastrointestinal bleeding, sleep apnea, hypotension, respiratory depression, and other serious health issues.

Some of these health issues can be alleviated when the person stops using opioids, but others will stick around for the long-term or may never heal completely.

For some users, it’s not an option to stop using opioids. After using opioids for long periods of time, withdrawal can be fatal.

People with opioid addiction will have to manage their condition for the rest of their lives. The addiction can be managed with the right care, and the symptoms may improve with treatment. But for many, the addiction will be a lifelong struggle.

The opioid epidemic is said to be the worst drug crisis in American history. Hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of the crisis, and those figures continue to rise. As those figures rise, we’re likely to see an increase in opioid-related accidents and damage from long-term use of the drug.

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