Increase in Workplace Drug Overdoses Prompts KOSHS Hazard Alert

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 13, 2022) — In 2020, the Kentucky Fatality Assessment Control Evaluation (FACE) program recorded the highest number of workplace drug overdose fatalities since FACE’s inception in 1994. The alarming trend continued into 2021, with eight drug overdose deaths occurring at work from January to June.

The Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health Surveillance (KOSHS) program recently released a Hazard Alert that focuses on fatal drug overdoses in the workplace. KOSHS, an occupational injury surveillance program of the Kentucky Department for Public Health and the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center (KIPRC), typically releases several Hazard Alerts each year.

“In the past couple of years, we’ve seen an increase in drug overdose fatalities among Kentucky residents in the general community and at work,” said KOSHS program manager Madison Liford.

Liford said the Hazard Alert provides information to employers and workers about preventing drug overdoses in the workplace.

The Hazard Alert highlights several fatal drug overdoses among workers that occurred in Kentucky in the workplace, including that of a 38-year-old male who was hired as a day laborer for a commercial property renovation. Co-workers reported last seeing him at 10 am, and the man was found deceased in an adjacent vacant apartment at 12:48 pm. The man had a history of opioid use and recent residential substance use disorder treatment. The cause of death was fentanyl intoxication.

Another case involved a 28-year-old out-of-state resident who drove a truck for a transportation company. The man pulled off the roadway onto a highway exit ramp and overdosed. The cause of death was fentanyl and ethanol intoxication.

The Hazard Alert includes three recommendations for employers, taken from best practices created by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Kentucky Transformational Employment Program, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and KIPRC. Established in 1994, KIPRC is a unique partnership between the Kentucky Department for Public Health (KDPH) and the University of Kentucky College of Public Health. KIPRC serves both as an academic injury prevention research center and as the KDPH’s designee or “bona fide agent” for statewide injury prevention and control, focusing on injury prevention translation and practice.

The recommendations from these groups include:

  • Develop recovery-friendly workplace policies and offer information, screenings, resources and referrals for workers at risk for substance use disorders. Ensure that treatment, accommodations and return-to-work supports are available when needed.
  • Identify local community resources for substance use disorder treatment and recovery support through contact with local health departments and other providers.
  • Maintain naloxone in multiple areas of the workplace to reverse opioid overdoses, and collaborate with local health departments to train employees on administration of naloxone. Call 911 immediately for any suspected overdose.

Liford said the KOSHS program is working to create a recovery-friendly workplace toolkit for small businesses.

“We’ve recently completed a needs assessment survey of small business owners,” she said. “We know that drug overdoses are occurring and want to provide quality resources for employers looking to support employees in recovery. The (Overdose Data to Action) program at KIPRC has additional data and information about drug overdose in Kentucky.”

Hazard Alerts are brief, two-page bulletins that highlight workplace hazards. Within the document, KOSHS provides statistics and practical recommendations employers can take to protect their workers from the hazard and additional resources that those viewing the document can peruse to learn more about the highlighted risk.

Terry Bunn, Ph.D., is the principal investigator of the KOSHS program and a professor of preventative medicine and environmental health in the UK College of Public Health.

To view the full Hazard Alert and past alerts, visit https://kiprc.uky.edu/programs/fatality-assessment-and-control-evaluation-face/hazard-alerts.

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