The opioid epidemic is running rampant in the U.S. Nearly 5 million people are addicted to prescription painkillers, heroin or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and more than 17,000 are dying each year from overdoses.
This week on @FordOnline we are featuring a special series of stories designed to both educate and inspire you. We’ll talk about the opioid problem in the U.S. and what Ford is doing to help. We’ll also share the stories of three Ford employees, whose lives have been impacted by the disease.
If you or someone you know has an opioid addiction, please reach out for help. If you are a UAW-Ford employee, visit your local ESSP office. If you are a salaried employee, contact your Total Health representative at 888.667.6603.
It’s almost impossible to find a person today whose life has not been impacted in some way by the opioid epidemic that is ravaging our country.
Opioid overdoses – from either street heroin or prescription painkillers – claim 91 lives each day in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and that sobering statistic is only getting worse.
“Opioid abuse is a serious health issue that touches every company, community and family in some way,” said Bill Dirksen, vice president, Ford Labor Affairs. “Together with our partners at the UAW, we are committed to raising awareness of this epidemic and to providing education and support for all of our employees.”
Last year, UAW-Ford launched the Campaign of Hope, an initiative aimed at educating people about the seriousness of the opioid epidemic.
“Everyone is at risk and this disease does not discriminate,” said Jerry Carson, UAW-Ford international representative, Employee Support Services Program (ESSP), who is spearheading the effort.
“There’s a false perception that only certain demographics are at risk for opioid abuse, but the truth is that people from all walks of life are being affected,” he said. “It’s no longer just people who run in bad crowds or grow up in poor areas. Your neighbor, your co-worker or your child could be addicted to opioids.”
In fact, according to the CDC, some of the most significant increases in heroin use in the U.S. are among women, the privately insured and people with higher incomes. In many cases, addiction to prescription painkillers leads to heroin abuse.
“Heroin is an opiate-based drug, and so are some of the drugs that doctors regularly prescribe for mild to severe pain,” said Carson, referring to narcotics like oxycodone or hydrocodone, more commonly referred to by the brand names OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet and Vicodin.
“It only takes a short amount of time for your brain to become addicted and then the addiction completely takes over your system to a point where you feel like you need it in order to survive,” he said. “When the doctor won’t write a prescription for refills, people often turn to the street to purchase the drugs. They ultimately get hooked on heroin because it provides them with the same high and it’s a lot cheaper.”
Sometimes the heroin is laced with a drug called fentanyl, making it much more potent – and dangerous.
Carson said the UAW-Ford leadership is committed to making people aware of the opioid scourge and how quickly it can take over a person’s life.
Since CDC reports show that Ohio is among several states with the largest increase in opioid overdose deaths in recent years, the Campaign of Hope began at the Ohio Assembly Plant and went on to the Sharonville Transmission Plant. The next locations will include Louisville Assembly and Kentucky Truck Plant UAW Local 862. The plan is to deliver the Campaign of Hope to all UAW-Ford locations throughout the country.
“The Campaign of Hope is designed to educate people about the opioid epidemic and inform them of the treatment resources available to them at the plants,” said Carson, noting that the campaign includes an educational video as well as plant and union town hall meetings featuring a speaker who has successfully made it through treatment for opioid addiction.
“We want people to hear from someone who has overcome addiction and is now living a fruitful life, contributing to their family, employer and the community,” he said.
Building on the Campaign of Hope, Ford and the UAW also are developing a task force to dig deeper into the incidence of opioid use within Ford’s manufacturing facilities and align and maximize resources to combat it.
Dr. Nancy Rodway, plant physician and ESSP representative at the Ohio Assembly Plant, describes the opioid epidemic as “tragic and devastating.”
“Opioid addiction has affected so many lives and families and it is very misunderstood,” she said. “Folks outside the medical community regard drug addiction as a behavioral issue or weakness. It absolutely is a disease, and we need to treat the illness because it’s a fatal illness if not addressed.”
Unfortunately there is no silver bullet for opioid addiction, said Dr. Rodway.
“There is no single medical treatment that will cure this disease,” she said. “Because of that we need to be kind to – and patient with – opiate addicts and their family members because recovery comes in fits and starts.”
One thing that people can do to help an opioid addict is to be prepared.
Dr. Rodway said she is a strong advocate of Narcan – a medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose. The nasal version of the drug available without a prescription in some states, however, it is very expensive without insurance.
“When a person is unresponsive, it could be cardiac arrest or an opioid overdose. ‘Hands only’ CPR may not help many opioid overdose victims because it’s not their heart that’s the trouble, it’s their respiratory system because an opioid overdose slows your respiratory rate,” she said. “Narcan is one of the safest drugs around. If you use it on a person who is just sleeping, it will not hurt them. It just gives them a wet nose.”
If you suspect someone you know may be abusing opioids, here are some signs to look for:
· Loss of interest in or missed days at work or school
· Weight loss
· Loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities
· Stealing money or selling items for cash
· Track marks on the arms (although many people just starting to use heroin snort the drug rather than inject it)
Opioid addiction, like nicotine addiction, is a difficult disease to fight and most addicts don’t quit on the first try. Sometimes it takes up to nine attempts before an addict quits for good, according to Dr. Rodway.
If you have an opioid addiction, the UAW and Ford strongly encourage you to visit your local ESSP office for help. The information you share will be kept confidential and admitting that you have a drug problem will not put you in jeopardy of losing your job.
“If you come to us and say you have a problem with an addiction, you are protected by federal law by the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Dr. Rodway. “But if illegal drugs are found in your possession or your urine and you have not come forth, your job could be in jeopardy.”
Carson also emphasized the importance of coming forward and asking for help.
“The UAW-Ford ESSP is based on confidentiality to protect those who are using the program services,” he said. “We are here for you. You will be referred to a treatment physician who will provide you with the help and support that you need.”
If you are a Ford salaried employee struggling with an addiction, please call your Total Health representative at 888.667.6603.