Employers Have Unique Opportunity to Help Curb the Opioid Crisis

NIOSH is developing solutions to help both workers and employers.

August 26, 2019

Opioid overdose deaths hit a record high in 2017, claiming 47,600 lives. The opioid overdose epidemic affects Americans not only at home, but also in the workplace. In 2017, 95% of the 70,067 U.S. drug overdose deaths occurred among the working age population – those between the ages of 15 and 64.

Certain industries have been linked to higher rates of opioid overdose deaths, specifically those with high injury rates and physically demanding working conditions, such as construction, mining or fishing. Beyond industry differences, job factors associated with opioid use include job stress, low levels of control over job tasks, lack of paid sick leave and job insecurity.

Employers are in a unique position to help workers who may have opioid use disorder, and NIOSH is dedicated to developing solutions to help employers tackle this problem. As part of this effort, NIOSH has developed a framework that aims to:

  • Identify workplace conditions linked to overdose risk
  • Determine risk factors for opioid use
  • Protect workers and responders
  • Develop methods for detection and decontamination

Guiding questions for the framework include:

  • How can employers and medical providers prevent opioids prescribed for a work-related injury from becoming a pathway to an opioid use disorder?
  • What education do workers need regarding the risks of opioid use?
  • What work-related factors, such as injuries, pain, job loss and work stress, may be leading to the use and misuse of opioids?
  • How can we protect workers, like police officers or first responders, who may encounter opioids as they perform their work?
  • How do workers safely decontaminate spaces where large quantities of opioids are present?

NIOSH recently released a new workplace solutions document, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Opioid Use Disorder. MAT uses medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to treat opioid use disorder.

The document provides information for workers about treatment options, addresses impairment potential for drugs used as part of MAT, discusses legal protections, and provides information for employers on preventing opioid use disorder and supporting treatment if it does occur.

Naloxone is a safe and effective drug for reversing opioid overdose. Police officers, emergency medical providers and non-emergency professional responders routinely carry the drug for that purpose. The U.S. Surgeon General urges others who may encounter people at risk for opioid overdose to carry naloxone and know how to use it once the signs of an overdose have been identified.

NIOSH also offers employers Using Naloxone to Reverse Opioid Overdose in the Workplace. This document includes considerations for establishing a workplace naloxone program, from the initial risk assessment to training, storage and follow-up care.

For more information on addressing the opioid crisis in the workplace and community, visit the NIOSH website, which is dedicated to sharing the latest research, data and resources.

Aug. 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. Learn how you can memorialize a loved one, inspire change or take action to save lives.

Dr. John Howard

Dr. John Howard is director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and administrator of the World Trade Center Health Program, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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