The United States is in the grips of an opioid epidemic. Drugs take a toll on nearly every facet of society. In 2017, 70,237 people died from drug overdoses. That number has more than quadrupled since 1999. The New England and Middle Atlantic states are some of the hardest hit, and account for many of the opioid fatalities.
The opioid epidemic has affected the workforce as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace overdose deaths increased at least 25 percent from 2013 to 2017. There were 272 overdose deaths at work in 2017 alone.
Growing safety concern
Many of the fatal overdoes happen in dangerous workplaces, such as construction sites, warehouses, garages and factories. All these workplaces involve the three thing the deadliest jobs have in common: working from heights, working with dangerous machinery and driving for long periods.
Working while under the influence of opioids is not only a danger to the drug user. It also presents a danger to coworkers who need to rely on peers to stay safe.
Many people who become addicted to opioids first start taking opioids after a work-related injury. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) uses workers’ compensation data as an important metric in gauging the opioid epidemic. Studies indicate a correlation between longer opioid prescriptions after an injury and a slower return to the job after workplace injuries.
The mining and construction industries have the most workers’ compensation claims prescribed opioids. They are followed by the agriculture, forestry, fishing and public safety industries. Older workers and workers in rural counties were most likely to receive opioid prescriptions.
Since many of the injuries that begin opioid addictions are work-related, the most important thing workplaces can do to avoid the cost of the epidemic is to promote a culture of safety. This includes conforming to state, federal, union and industry guidelines, obeying labor laws to prevent overworking and taking an active role in employee safety.