Addressing Opioid Abuse and Use in the Workplace

The United States is awash in prescription pain medication, mostly opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others. There is clear and legitimate need for these drugs to treat both acute and chronic pain. At the same time, there were more than 257 million prescriptions written for opioids in 2012, enough for every American adult to have his or her own bottle. As the numbers of prescriptions have increased, so too has the rate of opioid addiction.

Most people are aware that opioid overuse and addiction is a real problem within the United States, but they may not be entirely aware of the breadth of the issue. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 44 people daily die from prescription drug overdose and 7,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misuse. The CDC also states that prescription drug abusers are 40 times more likely to become heroin users. Some of these people are surely in your workplace. It’s a very real problem that needs to be addressed.

There are some classic signs of opioid abuse that employers should watch:

  • Feeling euphoria or experiencing no pain
  • Feeling sedated
  • Shallow or slow breathing
  • Small pupils
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Itching or flushed skin
  • Constipation
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion or poor judgment

There are resources available for employers who are concerned about the overuse of prescription opioids within their workplace clinics. The National Safety Council has recommendations for addressing opioid use in the workplace. Additionally, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) has issued a set of guidelines for prescribing opioids in occupational health practices.This is a serious, widespread problem that needs addressing. Good workers–good people–have been caught in this epidemic and need a helping hand out of it. Employers can start by limiting access to opioids within their clinics and providing support for those who want and need it.

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