How the Opioid Crisis Affects Workers

In a recent article by NIOSH Director, John Howard, MD, one of the most pressing public health challenges our nation faces today is the epidemic of opioid overdoses.

According to the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, opioids – including prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl – killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, more than any year on record.

The effects of opioid use and misuse are not isolated to just one part of society. According to the CDC National Center for Health Statistics, 95% of the total U.S. drug overdose deaths that occurred in 2016 were among the working age population, persons aged 15–64 years.

While it is not known how many of these individuals were employed at the time of their overdose, the work environment, including potential work-related injuries, can increase the potential for opioid use.

The opioid overdose epidemic has also worsened with a rise in the use of illicit opioids or other drugs, like cocaine and heroin, which can be contaminated with potent opioids like fentanyl.

The increased prevalence of illicitly manufactured fentanyl and their analogs (equivalents), has also become an emerging threat to law enforcement officers, firefighters, first responders, ambulance attendants, and others who may be exposed in the course of their work.

The NIOSH report adds that improving communication and collaboration between public health and public safety, can help identify changes in illicit drug supply, and coordinate a more timely and effective response.