The Dangers of Opioid Use in the Workplace

Opioids are prescribed to treat severe or persistent pain. Most often, they are used to treat moderate to severe pain that may not respond well to other pain medications. They are prescribed to treat backaches, pain associated with surgery, cancer, and/or other painful medical conditions.

By binding to certain receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body, opioids reduce pain messages being sent from the body via the spinal cord to the central nervous system (CNS).

Addiction is a big risk for those who are prescribed opioids for any length of time. According to Dr. John Rosa, a patient who is prescribed an opioid can become addicted in just three days. (source: AMI on YouTube )

The use of opioids has reached alarming levels in America. The U.S Department of Health and Human (HHS) has declared their use a nationwide epidemic. Opioid overdoses have affected communities all over the country – this is especially evident in the Midwest, where there has been a 70% increase in use. So much so, employees in the workplace are also using opioids more and more. (source:

So, what are the dangers of opioid use in the workplace?

The Consequences

The use of opioids in the workplace has a substantial impact on both employers and employees and it presents a complex situation for business owners. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, over 10 million people in the US between the ages of 15 and 45 have misused opioids. (source:

For employers, it is not easy to find skilled and qualified employees who can pass drug screening tests. The report stated that individuals with opioid use at the workplace show higher absenteeism and decreased productivity. (source:

From a business point of view, the increase in both legal and illicit opioid use is leading to increased healthcare costs. An opioid prescription can lead to dependence and addiction, which can lead employees to seek out illegal drugs after the prescription expires.

Opioid use also poses safety concerns for employers. An impaired worker is a threat to themself, their co-workers, and to the workplace environment as a whole.

The CDC further stated in the report that the opioid crisis has hit hard the safety-sensitive companies and/or industries. This includes transportation, construction, material moving, and other industries. These sectors are now highly prone to increased rates of injuries at the workplace. (source:

Not only does the use of an opioid impair thinking, it also affects reaction time. This leads to deteriorating performance of physical tasks and/or tasks that require quick reactions, focus, and attention. In addition, the use of a prescription opioid painkiller can cause impairment, which can lead to workplace injury.

What is the Government Doing About It?

In response to the opioid crisis, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has focused their efforts on five key areas:

  1. improving access to treatment and recovery services

  2. promoting use of overdose-reversing drugs

  3. strengthening our understanding of the epidemic through better public health surveillance

  4. providing support for cutting-edge research on pain and addiction

  5. advancing better practices for pain management

Worker Health & Well-Being

A number of companies are now focused on the intersection of opioid use and business safety concerns. Business owners are making substantial efforts to move beyond this framework and placing an emphasis on corporate responsibility to worker health and wellbeing.

For this, companies are shaping new policies to integrate a proactive approach to prevent opioid use and misuse in the workplace. It is important to support workers who have opioids issue at the workplace in seeking recovery and/or treatment. Companies in the U.S must substantiate the health of employees – including mental, physical, emotional, social, and economic well-being.

So, health & safety programs are essential – in order to address personal, occupational, and organizational concerns while enhancing the overall health of employees.

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