Naloxone, commonly sold under the brand name Narcan and available without a prescription in every US state except Nebraska, is an opioid receptor antagonist used to treat overdoses of heroin and other opiates. Delivered via injection or a nasal spray, the drug has been credited with saving many addicts’ lives and has lately been the subject of numerous awareness campaigns in the US urging people who interact frequently with opioid users to have the antidote on hand and know how to administer it.
Last month, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams urged employers to stock naloxone at worksites as well, and train employees on how to use it, Allen Smith reported at SHRM:
“For a heart attack, we train employees how to do CPR until the paramedics arrive,” Adams noted April 19 in Washington, D.C, at Business Health Agenda 2018, a conference sponsored by the National Business Group on Health, speaking about the opioid epidemic. “Why is that not the case with naloxone and Narcan? We need to make these emergency treatments as ubiquitous as knowing CPR and calling for a defibrillator when someone is having a heart attack, or using an EpiPen when someone’s having an allergic reaction.”
Even before the surgeon general’s statement, a few clients of Nancy Delogu, an attorney with Littler in Washington, D.C., made naloxone available at work. They made this decision after employees overdosed on opioids at work. …
Before making naloxone available, employers should have a workplace safety program in place, according to Delogu. “If you just have a medical kit, this is a big step up,” she said. Delogu predicted that more employers will equip themselves with naloxone following the surgeon general’s announcement. Increasingly, state laws shield employers from being liable for administering it, she added.
Fueled by the widespread availability of opioid painkillers, including extremely strong synthetic drugs like fentanyl, opioid abuse and addiction has reached epidemic proportions throughout the US in recent years. The opioid epidemic has been cited as one of the most likely causes of the disappearance of many prime-age men from the US workforce and the dwindling of the labor force participation rate. Adams’s advice comes not long after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data showing that the number of Americans dying of drug or alcohol related causes at work has been growing by at least 25 percent each year since 2012. Opioid overdoses are the main driver of that trend.
Keeping naloxone in your workplace first aid kit and training designated employees to administer it can certainly prevent a tragedy, especially if your worksite is in a remote area where first responders are unlikely to arrive quickly. However, an overdose at work is the sort of emergency most employers would prefer never to have to deal with, which is why employers should also take action to prevent, identify, and treat opioid abuse and addiction within the workforce before it gets to that point.
There are many forms of support organizations can offer in helping employees avoid or overcome dependency on these drugs. One company, for example, trains supervisors to spot signs of painkiller abuse and directs employees who test positive for opioids to treatment rather than the exit. Employers can also work with their health insurance providers to ensure that their prescription drug policies restrict the dispensing of habit-forming painkillers and that addiction treatment services are available to employees.