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Illustration by Security Management

Opioid Use’s Impact on the Workplace

Nearly every racial and ethnic group, and people of all ages, saw an increase in opioid-involved and synthetic opioid-involved overdose death rates, CNN reported.

“Earlier research has found that synthetic opioids accounted for nearly 60 percent of opioid-involved overdose deaths in the United States in 2017,” CNN found. “There has also been an increase in deaths involving cocaine and psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, MDMA, and methylphenidate (commonly sold as Ritalin).”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines synthetic opioids as drugs that are designed to provide pain relief, like tramadol and fentanyl, and are similar to naturally occurring opioids codeine and morphine.

Millions of Americans now suffer from a prescription opioid-related drug disorder and more than 47,000 people died from overdoses either from prescribed opioid pain relivers, heroin, or fentanyl in 2017. This means Americans are now more likely to die from an accidental opioid overdose than a motor vehicle crash, according to 2019 National Safety Council (NSC) data.

This drastic increase in opioid use is having an impact on the workplace. In Security Management’s November cover story, Managing Editor Claire Meyer details the rise of opioids across America and its effect on the labor market and workplace safety.

“Employees who abuse opioids have higher absenteeism rates and are more likely to lose their jobs, compounding emotional and economic hardships that can make disorders worse,” Meyer writes. “Workers with substance abuse disorders miss an average of 14.8 days of work a year, but those with a current pain medication use disorder miss an average of 29 days per year—compared to 10.5 for most employees, the CDC reports.”

To help employers create safe workplaces, the NSC released in September a free Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit, which is designed to help employers understand opioids and their impact on workplace safety. It also teaches employees to recognize the signs of impairment, should they see a colleague under the influence on the job, and provides best practices for supporting employees who are struggling with opioid misuse or drug disorders.

“Two-thirds of American adults with opioid use disorders are in the workforce,” said Lorraine M. Martin, president and CEO of the NSC, in a statement. “Everyone has a role to play in ending opioid overdose, including employers, who are often on the front lines. Organizations big and small will find life-saving information in this new toolkit—information that not only will help employers protect profits, but most important, their people.”