Essay on the Opioid Crisis in the Workplace

Prescription drug abuse has skyrocketed over the past decade, especially from Opioid analgesics, and has become a serious epidemic in today’s society. Despite what some individuals might think this abuse is not only aimed at a small demographic, it could happen throughout all different cultures, upbringings, and occupations, including healthcare. Nurses all over the healthcare spectrum are often working firsthand with these highly addictive medications to provide pain relief to patients under their care. It is essential for the nurse to give adequate patient education to help encourage proper use of the drug and avoid abuse of any kind, whether it is deliberate or not. The position I chose to do my analysis on is “The Occupational Health Nurse’s (OHNs) Role in Addressing the Opioid Crisis in the Workplace” by the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses. The purpose of this position statement is to acknowledge the role nurses have in reducing morbidity and mortality across the nation due to the Opioid crisis by guaranteeing the health and well-being of employees, employers, and their families are protected as well as their workplace (OHN, 2018).

This topic has become more significant and relevant to patient care throughout recent years. “In 2017, more than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses, making it a leading cause of injury-related death in the United States and of those deaths, almost 68% involved prescription or illicit Opioid” (CDC, 2019). Providers prescribe Opioids with the hopes of relieving severe pain for acute and chronic work or non-work-related injuries and may be very helpful if taken as directed, but they are often abused which can lead to a very serious addiction. Even if taken properly, it could potentially result in an injury at work, a decrease in job efficiency, or worse. Shockingly, the majority of heroin users have admitted the reason they got into the hard drug started from taking pills legally prescribed by their doctor. This shows that it is not just people on the streets that are dying of this disease, but it also can affect your average American worker trying to make a decent living. It is now more important than ever for workplaces to implement policies to help combat this issue internally as well as healthcare workers providing in-depth education. Employees who are prescribed Opioids need education on how to follow directions on the label correctly, the seriousness of never sharing prescriptions with other people, how to safely store the medication, and how to recognize potential interactions with other drugs and alcohol. The workplace should also look out for employees who seem to be extra drowsy or in a euphoric state because it can sometimes be hard to spot someone who is using and the side effects of Opioid use can lead to workplace injury.

This topic is also relevant to nursing practice because nurses can play a significant part in decreasing this epidemic by effectively assessing, monitoring, and educating patients. The nurse can do a lot of things to help prevent addiction when taking care of a patient who is prescribed Opioids. The first thing a nurse can do is get a detailed history of the patient’s health including the history of patient and family substance abuse as well as a list of past and currently prescribed medications. To assess for signs and symptoms of substance abuse, a thorough psychiatric and physical examination should be performed and anything out of the ordinary should be passed on to the provider. Nurses should also try different approaches to provide pain relief to patients, including non-pharmacological approaches, before going straight to the narcotics. Finally, when discharging a patient the nurse needs to educate them with verbal and written instructions on everything they need to know about the drug and why they are taking it, including alternative options the patient can try.

This position statement starts by giving examples of challenges at the workplace related to Opioid abuse that not only cause employees to be exposed to serious risks but that also can cost the company a lot of money. The statement then discussed in detail why it has become such an issue, and what is being done to elicit change from various organizations through raising awareness and acknowledging the potential for substance abuse. After listing some strategies that have been implemented, they came to the conclusion that a multi-faceted strategy is needed to decrease Opioid morbidity and mortality through the active involvement of occupational health nurses. The position statement then provides examples of how occupational health nurses work with employers to help prevent Opioid related work injuries or addictions (OHN, 2018).  It also includes adequate nursing education from occupational health nurses, workers, and management. Finally, the position statement finishes with a conclusion as to what they are aiming to accomplish and why they think that occupational health nurses are well-placed to lead the battle against Opioid dependence.

Due to the rising epidemic of Opioid abuse, this position statement has had a big impact on professional practice. Many organizations have raised awareness of this topic over the past decade and have made it known that prescription drugs are very dangerous and have many serious and deadly side effects. The American Association of Occupational Health Nurses has worked with employers to change policies by reviewing old drug testing policies and improving them by including synthetic and non-synthetic Opioid screening. They also have provided strategies for improving and standardizing Opioid prescriber training across health care provider groups to include other pain management options, how to discuss realistic pain management goals and what to expect realistically once treatment is complete, how to recognize potential risks and side effects, how to properly screening for abuse and co-morbidities, and how to facilitate referrals for treatment and recovery (OHN, 2018).

This position statement did a very good job going over strategies that have been addressed related to the Opioid crisis in the workplace as well as providing approaches implemented by occupational health nurses and employers. However, I believe this strategy could be somewhat tweaked to make it more relevant to a practitioner or registered nurse in a hospital setting. Before it even reaches the workplace, I believe health care providers can be executing all of these things before the patient is even discharged from the hospital. I also think that physicians should be more cautious when prescribing Opioids and seeking alternative ways to effectively reduce the patient’s pain.

While it is unrealistic to expect that the misuse of prescribed pain medication in the workplace will totally disappear, occupational health nurses are confident in their ability to help decrease the prevalence of their reliance across the nation. These nurses are able to provide individualized employee education, provide staff with confidentiality to build trust and have a mutual understanding, enhance drug testing, and partnering with other organizations to address this issue from all angles. Overall, I believe this position statement was significant and relevant to patient care and nursing practice and definitely could be implemented in a more relevant acute health care setting that we are used to seeing.


  • American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (2018). The Occupational Health Nurse’s (OHNs) Role in Addressing the Opioid Crisis in the Workplace
  • Opioid Overdose | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center. (0AD). Retrieved from