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Drug Overdose and Workplace Safety

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Drug abuse in the United States is an increasing problem, and the workplace is definitely not immune to this epidemic. Even though illicit drugs, such as cocaine and and heroin, account for the majority of workplace overdose deaths, prescription pain relievers containing opioids are of a major concern as well. Every single day, more than 130 people die in the United States after overdosing on opioids, which includes prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

Nearly half of workplace overdose deaths occur in three industries: transportation and warehousing, construction, and healthcare and social assistance. A survey conducted by the National Safety Council found that 75% of employers said their organizations have been directly affected by opioids, contributing to workplace overdoses and injuries, positive drug tests, and absenteeism.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed a fact sheet to help employers and workers understand the risk of opioid overdose and help them decide if they should establish a workplace naloxone availability and use program. If you do decide a workplace naloxone availability and use program should be established, here are some quick bullets from the fact sheet to help your organization get started with policies and procedures needed:

• Conduct a risk assessment before implementing a naloxone program
• Involve workplace safety committee and include worker representatives in the discussions
• Need a plan to purchase, store and administer naloxone in case of overdose
• Consider liability and other legal issues related to such a program
• Include formal procedures for documenting incidents and managing those records
• Define clear roles and responsibilities for all persons designated to respond to a suspected overdose
• Store personal protective equipment (PPE) close to the naloxone for quick response
• Develop a plan for immediate care by professional healthcare providers, referral for follow-up care, and ongoing support for any worker who has overdosed
• Re-evaluate the program periodically – including assessing new risks, maintaining equipment and restocking of naloxone and other first aid supplies


Tagged in: drug overdose opioids
Mr. Griffith has a received his bachelors degree in Environmental Health from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and president of Workplace Safety & Health Company. He has over 35 years of industrial hygiene, safety, loss control and consulting experience. Chemical monitoring, noise measurement, program development and management, risk assessment and computer management of health and safety data are areas of particular strength. Mr. Griffith is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) at the local and national level. He is also active in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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