Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released troubling statistics on the growing epidemic of drug and opioid overdose deaths in the United States. The origins of this epidemic have been linked to prescription opioids. While it is unknown how many drug and opioid overdose deaths are associated with workplace injuries and illnesses, it is clear that this national epidemic is impacting workers and employers.
A May 2014 NIOSH blog noted that injured workers are frequently treated with powerful prescription drugs. The blog reported on studies demonstrating that narcotics account for 25% of prescription costs in workers’ compensation systems and that those costs are rising.
An important avenue for combating prescription drug abuse are guidelines that health care providers can use to offer safer and more effective pain treatment. NIOSH’s sister agency at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), has released draft opioid prescribing guidelines and has invited public comment through January 13, 2016. NIOSH invites interested stakeholders to provide input on the draft CDC opioid prescribing guidelines. Comments need to be submitted directly to http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=CDC-2015-0112-0001.
In addition to work injuries and illnesses being the reason opioids are prescribed in the first place, there are others ways in which this epidemic is undoubtedly impacting workers and employers. The use of prescription opioids may impact the ability of a person to return to work, and ultimately can negatively affect their livelihood. If workers are under the influence of opioids while they are at work, they are likely to be at increased risk for injury. For workers in safety sensitive jobs, such as transportation and operators of heavy equipment, there will be increased risks for catastrophic events that impact many besides the worker.
NIOSH remains committed to primary prevention of occupational injuries and illnesses as our primary focus. We recognize the impact of the current opioid overdose epidemic on the workplace, and have compiled resources that may be useful for workers, employers, health care providers, and other stakeholders on a new topic page. We also believe that the NIOSH Center for Workers’ Compensation Studies provides a venue for research that can help inform interventions through workers’ compensation systems.
NIOSH welcomes suggestions for additional resources that we might include on our Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention webpage and relevant research that might be addressed through the NIOSH Centers for Workers’ Compensation Studies.
Dawn Castillo, MPH, is the Director of the NIOSH Division of Safety Research.
John Howard, MD, is the Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.