pain and prescription

First Responders Tightrope Between Pain and Prescription

Published on October 3, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

The physical nature of most first response work demands a lot from one’s body. Whether it’s operating heavy machinery, lifting stretchers, or clearing debris, aches and pains can accompany the rigors of hands-on work. Aside from the daily wear-and-tear, first responders are also subject to sudden and sometimes violent injuries. After years of battling chronic pain, many turn to prescription medication in the hopes of escaping intense agony.

Pain relief medication notoriously contains some of the more potentially lethal varieties of opioids. While low doses of opioid medication can alleviate injuries and allow those suffering from chronic pain to carry on with an air of normalcy, long-term reliance on painkillers may create a buildup of opioid tolerance for some patients. Unfortunately, a chemical tolerance to opioids makes it more likely for individuals to unintentionally overdose in an attempt to manage their pain levels.

Overdosing on opioids results in a slower heart rate and breathing rate, often to fatal levels. Even first responders — many of whom are familiar with and trained in assisting with painkiller overdoses — can struggle with finding the limits of their pain management after developing a tolerance to opioid treatment. Any first responders struggling to recover from lingering aches, sprains, or trauma should know that treatment doesn’t end with painkillers. There are many alternative strategies for coping with physical and psychological discomfort. 


The Painkiller Decision

For anyone who has experience with chronic pain, the decision to temper non-stop, throbbing pain with painkiller medication feels less like a decision of whether or not to use painkillers and more like a decision of when and how many. For traumatic injuries, healing is a long and arduous road. It can make the alternative of numbing those pain receptors very appealing. 

First responders also face the harsh reality of returning to a workplace where others rely on their ability to perform at high levels of physical and cognitive awareness. Showing up to a car accident hampered down by a nagging injury could potentially impede the timeliness of responding to emergencies. Many will turn to painkillers as a means to remain fit for duty. 

Opioids present particularly challenging substances to self-regulate, as they can be one of the quickest substances to develop chemical dependency within human biochemistry. Constant suppression of the nervous system’s pain receptors leads to an increased sensitivity to the stimulus of harm once a dosage is decreased or opioid painkillers are sworn off altogether. In a sense, opioid painkillers procrastinate our physiological “homework,” which is the physical strain of rehabilitating from severe injuries.


Dependency, Withdrawal, and Nagging Pain

Many health professionals will recommend strong opioid painkillers as treatment for severe short-term injuries. Although brief periods of opioid painkillers can be managed, they present a huge risk to anyone who has prior addiction experience with opioid painkillers, or if those recovering from an injury will stay on the same medication for longer than two weeks. 

Once individuals pass the fortnight threshold of opioid painkiller treatment, the process of getting off painkillers can be wrought with withdrawal. Going cold turkey can be very dangerous and result in harmful side effects for anyone trying to get clean. If possible, the best course of action is consulting a healthcare professional about tapering the dosage of opioid painkillers in order to wean the individual off the substance. 

First responders recovering from significant injuries who have recently stopped taking painkillers are likely to begin craving the medication as a result of pain returning. It is important to remember that the pain was always there, even if it was muted by the pain-numbing medication. Those shooting signals through the nervous system are a part of the body’s recovery process and will continue to persist until an injury is fully rehabilitated.


Managing Pain with Supplemental Strategies

Simply put, rehabilitation is hard work. There are no shortcuts sustainable to long-term health — however, individuals can do little things to help them feel more empowered in their recovery from either injury, opioid painkiller dependency, or both. Hydration is the body’s olive oil, expediting the reactions and processes necessary to detox and heal from aches, sprains, fractures, and more. Stretching will circulate oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, joints, and other tissue attempting to repair itself. A healthy diet and positive mindset will benefit sustained sobriety and recovery, but none of these lifestyle choices will magically fix the underlying problems. When done in tandem, however, the healing process can lead to a healthy and mindful perspective capable of tackling life head-on without the looming presence of opioid painkillers.


Long-term misuse of prescription medications can have lasting effects on the body, making recovery difficult without professional help. Some withdrawal symptoms can even be dangerous, requiring a medically-supervised detox to ensure your safety and help you regain your strength before transitioning into the next phase of treatment. At First Responder Wellness, we provide the comprehensive care you’ll need to help you overcome your addiction and achieve the happy, healthy life you deserve. Whether it’s you or someone you love struggling with an addiction to prescription drugs, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Although the decision to seek treatment can be difficult, especially for first responders, prescription drug abuse is a serious concern that jeopardizes not only your own health and wellness but the safety of those you serve. If you’re ready to begin living an alcohol and substance-free life, call First Responder Wellness today at (888) 743-0490.