New NIEHS Resources to Prevent and Address Opioid Misuse and Promote Recovery Friendly Workplace ProgramsPosted on by
The opioid crisis has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics shows that in 2020 there was a 29% increase in the number of overdose deaths compared to the same time frame the previous year. This crisis has severely impacted the U.S. workforce, especially industries with a high risk of injury. A survey focused on opioid use, conducted by the National Safety Council, found that 1 in 12 workers has an untreated substance use disorder and employers are most concerned with costs associated with opioid use disorders (OUD). However, only a small percentage (17%) of employers believe that their company is prepared to deal with OUDs and only a little more than a quarter (28%) offer opioid specific training to employees.
Recovery friendly workplace programs and member assistance programs are associated with:
- Increased job stability, productivity, and longevity with the host company.
- Improved workplace safety.
- Reduced disciplinary problems, workers’ compensation, and healthcare costs. [3,4]
Employers routinely invest in training their employees on a variety of topics and it certainly is in their best interest to help keep workers healthy. This should extend to addressing sensitive topics like harms related to substance use and OUD.
A new resource developed by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), Worker Training Program (WTP) Initiatives to Prevent Opioid Misuse and Promote Recovery Friendly Workplace Programs provides summaries of initiatives, training programs, toolkits and resources developed by employers, labor unions, community-based organizations, and government agencies. This resource can be helpful for those developing workplace opioid use prevention and support programs and serves as a valuable complement to the workplace tools developed by NIOSH.
Training materials in this NIEHS resource include hazard alerts, toolbox kits, infographics, information on apprenticeship training programs, and training curricula. The worker training programs cover the scope of the opioid crisis, define key terms, discuss how opioids impact the body and the brain, and what employers, labor, and communities can do to prevent and respond to these harms. The publication includes links to videos, podcasts, personal testimony, photos, and graphics.
The document highlights promising policies, practices, and resources from organizations actively working to support treatment and recovery. Examples include:
- Pledging to provide a safe workplace to have open and honest discussions about substance use disorders.
- Hiring certified mental health and substance use counselors, vetting treatment programs, and holding weekly recovery meetings open to workers and family members.
- Offering a promise of employment to new and existing employees who fail drug screening and subsequently complete a drug treatment program paid for by the company.
- Providing a physical, designated safe space for employees to receive treatment, begin the recovery process, and prepare them to return to work.
The document also highlights recovery and treatment programs and resources offered by several labor organizations and employers including:
- The unique Peer Based Recovery and Treatment Facility operated by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) for its members who are struggling with mental health or substance use issues. The facility provides a safe space for members to receive treatment, begin the recovery process, and prepare them to return to work.
- Leidos, a global IT and engineering company, has a corporate pledge to provide a safe workplace to have open and honest discussions about addictions. This led the company to research and explore its own response to the opioid crisis and related company policies. They revised their prescription drug plan, reducing first time painkiller prescriptions to only seven days, providing educational materials and a way for employees to dispose of unused pills.
- The International Union of Operating Engineers’ model Member Assistance Program, an internal peer-based program made up of people in recovery and labor leaders which provides confidential health and referral services to its members. This program reported an 80% success rate in participants staying in recovery and maintaining employment. The union has hired two certified mental health/ substance use counselors, vetted treatment programs, and holds weekly recovery meetings at the union hall open to family members and non-union construction workers.
NIOSH has also developed resources that will help employers and workplaces cultivate supportive environments for workers with substance use disorders, including information on Workplace Supported Recovery programs, medication-assisted treatment, and workplace naloxone availability and use programs. All of these can be found on the NIOSH Opioids in the Workplace webpage. Ideally, workplaces will use a holistic, Total Worker Health® approach to substance misuse and substance use disorders, integrating prevention measures with resources like those available from NIOSH and NIEHS to encourage treatment, recovery, and overall worker well-being and success, on and off the job.
Links to the NIEHS WTP’s three opioid related training programs and other federal and state websites and resources are available on the NIEHS website Opioids & Substance Use: Workplace Prevention & Response. These programs are free and can be modified and adapted as needed.
The NIEHS WTP also provides funding to its grantees for the development and delivery of training on opioid misuse prevention in the workplace, access to treatment and recovery programs, how to address current workplace policies that stigmatize and/or punish workers with OUDs/SUDs, and how to implement recovery friendly workplace policies and programs. 
Has your workplace provided opioid awareness training, recovery/treatment programs or peer training? If so, please share with us in the comment section below.
For More Information
NIEHS WTP’s National Clearinghouse for Worker Safety and Health Training provides information about opioids and the workplace training programs and the availability of worker, leadership, and first responder training
NIOSH Opioids in the Workplace webpage
Jonathan Rosen, MS, CIH, FAIHA®, is an Industrial Hygiene Consultant with the National Clearinghouse for Worker Safety & Health Training.
Jamie C. Osborne, MPH, CHES® is a Public Health Analyst with the NIOSH Office of the Director.
L. Casey Chosewood, MD MPH, is Director of the NIOSH Office for Total Worker Health.
- CDC  Drug Overdose Deaths in the U.S. Top 100,000 Annually. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/nchs_press_releases/2021/20211117.htm
- National Safety Council.  National Employer Survey 2019 Opioid Usage In The Workplace. A Research Report for the National Safety Council. https://www.nsc.org/getmedia/d7221a2a-a6a5-4348-a092-02ed41e9d251/ppw-survey-methodology.pdf
- National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and National Safety Council. Substance use disorders by occupation, https://www.nsc.org/getmedia/9dc908e1-041a-41c5-a607-c4cef2390973/substanceuse-disorders-by-occupation.pdf
- Goplerud E, Hodge S, & Benham T. A substance Use cost calculator for US employers with an emphasis on prescription pain medication misuse. J Occup Environ Med 2017; 59: 1063–1071.
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Worker Training Program.  Opioid -Related Hazards in the Workplace. (https://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/events/pastmtg/hazmat/assets/2018/wtp_fall_2018_workshop_report.pdf)
Funding support from NIEHS WTP Contract number 75N96021D00008 task order number 75N96021F0001 with contributions from NIH Office of Disease Prevention.