A drug administered through nasal spray that helps to reverse an opioid drug overdose is being recommended by public health officials for employers to keep on hand in most workplaces.
Called Naloxone (a/k/a Narcan), the government of Ontario mandated in June that the drug be kept available by employers in that Canadian province, where about 2,500 people died of opioid-related causes between March 2020 and January 2021 (30% of them were construction workers).
“By ensuring access to life-saving naloxone kits where and when our workers need them, our government is helping to protect more Ontarians struggling with addiction from preventable deaths and taking decisive action to address the challenges of the opioid crisis,” said Michael Tibollo, associate minister of the provincial office of Mental Health and Addictions
In the United States 93,657 people died of drug overdoses in 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. Some of these overdoses involved methamphetamine, cocaine and prescription drugs, but most of the deaths (71,238) stemmed abuse of fentanyl smuggled across our southern border with Mexico.
“Naloxone is a critical tool for preventing opioid overdose deaths,” researchers at the CDC point out. “Research has found that overdose deaths decrease in communities that provide naloxone with opportunities for overdose education.”
The CDC stresses that employers acquire the kits. “Overdose deaths occur across the workforce but are more common in some industries. As much as 43% of all drug overdoses deaths at work occurred specifically in the transportation and warehousing, construction, and healthcare and social assistance sectors,” it says.
The U.S. Surgeon General recommended its use by the general public as early as 2018, and it has become common for police officers and emergency medical services providers to carry the Naloxone kits when they are on call, and this is believed to have saved many lives as a result.
In 2021, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published a video, “Addressing Opioid Overdoses in the Workplaces,” to help employers and workers better understand the risk of opioid overdose and encourage employers to establish a workplace naloxone availability and use program.
This video was based on a NIOSH factsheet called Using Naloxone to Reverse Opioid Overdose in the Workplace: Information for Employers and Workers.
The National Safety Council also issued guidelines for employers who are considering stocking their workplaces with the kits. “Any opioid user – which may include employees, visitors or passersby – is at risk for an opioid overdose,” NSC said.
It stresses that employers should take certain steps before acquiring the kits and starting a workplace program. Policies and procedures should be developed by a core group of company representatives, including human resources, safety and health professional employees and a legal representative, NSC recommends.
Issues the council says employers should consider include liability and other legal issues; recording and documenting trainings and incidents while protecting the privacy of the victims; and defining clear roles and responsibilities for potential responders to a suspected opioid overdose.
Employers also may want to take into account geographic factors before they make the decision to acquire the kits and engage in staff training (which can be obtained for free). In 2021, for example, the states with the highest numbers of overdoses were Alaska, Oregon, Mississippi, Maine and Kansas. The lowest rates ranged from Arizona, Virginia and Florida, to Vermont, Ohio and Pennsylvania.