Home Preventing overdoses – what is the employer’s role?

Preventing overdoses – what is the employer’s role?

(September 2023)

Overdose deaths continue to climb, with today’s numbers more than 5x what they were 20 years ago. While progress has been made, there are still far too many lives being lost. These losses impact our workforce, whether we lose a worker or a worker loses a loved one.

Employers can play an important role in preventing overdoses through two key tools: education and intervention. Research tells us that meaningful education is a crucial part of any Drug Free Workplace program, and a recent study by Kaiser Permanente outlines risk factors people need to know. And now that Naloxone is available over the counter, it may be time to consider adding it to your company’s first aid kit.

When people think about overdoses, they almost always think about opioids and fentanyl, but did you know that 40% of drug overdoses involve other drugs like benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium), methamphetamine and cocaine?

And when people think about risk factors for an overdose, they usually think about addiction and people with a pattern of misusing prescriptions and illicit drugs. However, accidental overdoses can occur among people without a history of either. Other risk factors people need to know include:

  • Taking high medication doses
  • Taking multiple medications
  • Using drugs with alcohol
  • Using prescribed drugs again after stopping for a while
  • Experiencing major life transitions, such as being discharged from inpatient treatment programs or being released from prison

Meaningful education should also teach everyone how to have a safe and healthy relationship with prescription medications, as well as how to secure, monitor and dispose of their medications appropriately.

But education is not an employer’s only tool. Today, many workplace safety advocates recommend employers stock the opioid overdose intervention drug, Naloxone, in their first aid supplies. This year the FDA approved two nasal spray applications, Narcan and RiVive, to be sold over the counter in stores or online.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021 unintentional drug overdoses led to 464 occupational deaths, making it the fifth most common cause on on-the-job fatalities. The highest rates took place in transportation, warehousing and construction.

Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an overdose caused by an opioid drug. When administered during an overdose, naloxone blocks the effects of opioids on the brain and quickly restores breathing. If naloxone is administered to a person who is dependent on opioids, it will produce withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal, although uncomfortable, is not life-threatening. If naloxone is given to a person who is not experiencing an opioid overdose, it is harmless.

Currently, OSHA does not require Naloxone for any industries. However, the Associated General Contractors of America does recommend stocking it and even some first aid kit suppliers, such as Cintas Corp are considering adding it.

The main concern raised by employers is whether they could face liability if they administer Naloxone to an employee, customer or others on their property.

The makers of Naloxone recommends that any employee designated to administer the drug first be provided training. Training takes only 10 minutes and is free through most local health departments. In Ohio, free training can be accessed through Project Dawn sites. (link: https://odh.ohio.gov/know-our-programs/project-dawn/project-dawn-programs/project+dawn+locations)