The hit BBC drama ‘Line of Duty’ has recently returned to our screens and episode five has left us with the biggest cliff-hanger yet. However, the story that we should all be focused on is Steve Arnott’s painkiller addiction. The elephant in the room. The not-so-secret issue. Hastings knows and it seems the occupational health emails are being filed in the bin.
In early episodes of this season the Detective Inspector visited not one but two pharmacies, purchasing over-the-counter ibuprofen and codeine. These scenes offer a glimpse into his painkiller addiction, together with his dependence on alcoholism to cope with the pain of his back injury (a work-related injury which occurred in Series 4) It is clear from these scenes alone that Steve is developing a serious opioid medication addiction. Whilst Line of Duty is a fictional drama, writer Jed Mercurio takes inspiration from real-life events and this is a direct link to the UK’s growing problem with opioid addiction.
In simple terms, ‘Opioids’ is the overarching name for any illegal drug or medicine that is derived from the opium poppy or chemically derived to be of a similar structure with similar effects on the body. Opioids are frequently used as prescription medicines, due to their chemical properties which can relax the body and relieve pain. These properties are a depression of the Central Nervous System causing both a complete slowing of the brain and bodily functions, specifically effecting an individual’s breathing, reaction times and the ability to perform simple tasks. However, opioids can also make individuals feel ‘high’ and euphoric, hence the reason why they are used for non-medical reasons, a well-known example of this is Heroin.
Codeine, as seen being purchased by Steve Arnott, is one of the most frequently purchased over-the-counter opioids, followed by tramadol. Both drugs are marketed as painkillers and are frequently prescribed when everyday painkillers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and paracetamol, have not worked.
Why is this relevant to the industry today?
Recent statements issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) show that there has been a worrying increase in codeine and tramadol prescriptions during the Covid-19 pandemic. Data shows that the number of individuals prescribed opiate painkillers over the first 10 months of 2020 rose to 1.18 million, 745,047 were women and 434,697 were men.
These drugs should only be prescribed for severe pain, following an operation or serious injury. However, NICE have recently written a consultation draft recommending that opioids are no longer prescribed as pain relief medications. Their research suggests that there is a lack of evidence for effectiveness of opioids, as well as evidence demonstrating long-term harm. Painkillers only defer the pain for so long and unless further treatment for the pain is provided, a risk of dependence on the drugs will start to arise. This is reflected in Steve’s Line of Duty storyline with a migration from prescription to purchase over-the-counter painkiller addiction.
The bottom and concerning line are that 10% of the UK population are taking pain killers and the majority of these are codeines. With this increasing level of opiate in the body, the individual is unable to function. They will be impaired, unable to perform and inevitably this will restrict their ability to make imperative decisions correctly or quickly. Within the workplace, this will have an adverse effect on the employee’s role, more specifically, they will be unable to function safely whilst driving or operating heavy machinery. They will, therefore, be more likely to have a serious accident, potentially causing personal injury, third party injury or death. It is essential that all employees who are taking prescribed opiate painkillers report this. It is then the responsibility of their manager to assign suitable work-related tasks.
With this in mind, do you know who is taking opiate painkillers within your workforce, how do you ensure employees understand the dangers of increased dosages and the implications of misusing these medications?