Fighting opioid abuse

UAW-Ford unite to educate people on the dangers of painkiller and heroin addictions

The opioid epidemic is rampant in the United States. Nearly 5 million people are addicted to prescription painkillers, heroin or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Every day, 115 people die from overdoses.

The UAW and Ford Motor Company stand united to bring attention to this critical issue. In this periodic series, we’ll share stories of Ford employees, who like millions of people, are dealing with the impact of opioid-related addiction.

It’s almost impossible to find a person today who hasn’t felt the impact of the opioid epidemic that is ravaging our country.

Opioid overdoses — from street heroin or prescription painkillers — send 1,000 people to U.S. emergency rooms each day and claim more than 40,000 lives each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 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 of 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.”

The opioid problem at large

Last year, UAW-Ford launched the Campaign of Hope to educate 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,” Carson 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 80 percent of 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,” Carson 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 drug dealers lace the heroin with a drug called fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, 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.

“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,” Carson said. He noted 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.

Since CDC reports show that Ohio is among 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 plan is to deliver the Campaign of Hope to all UAW-Ford locations throughout the country.

“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,” Carson said.

Understanding opioid addiction

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.

Nancy Rodway, MD, physician and ESSP representative at the Ohio Assembly Plant, described the opioid epidemic as “tragic and devastating.”

“Opioid addiction has affected so many lives and families and it is very misunderstood,” Dr. Rodway 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 added. “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 is a strong advocate of Narcan, which blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose. The nasal version of the drug is available without a prescription in some states; however, it is expensive without insurance.

“When a person is unresponsive, it could be cardiac arrest or an opioid overdose,” she said. “‘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. 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.”

Signs of opioid abuse

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
• Depression
• 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, Dr. Rodway said.

If you have an opioid addiction, the UAW and Ford strongly encourage employees to visit your local ESSP office for help.

“The UAW-Ford ESSP is based on confidentiality to protect those who are using the program services,” Carson 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.”

Added 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.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug misuse or abuse, please reach out for help. If you’re not a Ford employee, call the free, confidential treatment referral service, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) any time, day or night. Parents looking for information about talking to their children about drug abuse can call Partnership for Drug-Free Kids at 1-855-378-4373.