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November 15, 2023
White House releases workplace drug use, overdose guidance

On November 9, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released employer guidance and resources to address problems posed by workplace substance use and overdoses.

Substance use in the workplace is widespread, according to the White House employer guidance. In 2021, 26.9 million Americans aged 18 or older with a substance use disorder (SUD) were employed in the workplace—20.9 million of them were employed full time.

In a statement, the National Safety Council (NSC) expressed support for the release of the “toolkit.” The NSC pointed to government data showing a majority of adults (61%) have an SUD in the workforce. The group offers its own set of employer resources—a program called Respond Ready Workplace—similar to the ONDCP’s Recovery-Ready Workplace Toolkit.

The NSC’s Respond Ready Workplace program covers advocacy and education, employee training, and Naloxone distribution to counteract workplace overdose deaths. According to the NSC, unintentional workplace overdose deaths reached an all-time high of 464 in 2021, jumping from 388 in 2020. Deaths on the job from drug overdoses have increased 536% since 2011, according to the group.

The four “pillars” of the government’s Recovery-Ready Workplace program include prevention and risk reduction, training and education, hiring and employment, and treatment and recovery support. Workplace prevention involves actions, policies, and programs to reduce substance misuse risk factors that include work-related injury and workplace policies regarding the use of opioids for treatment of pain under insurance or health plans.

The ONDCP recommends that employers take several risk-reduction steps, including:

  • Reviewing and updating policies, procedures, and practices to reduce the risk of injuries, such as ergonomic/repetitive motion injuries and overexertion (lifting heavy items);
  • Examining how opioids are used to treat pain under health and workers’ compensation plans, especially for work-related injuries;
  • Assessing whether a lack of medical or disability leave creates an unintentional incentive to use opioids in order to return to work quickly after an injury;
  • Identifying and working to address social factors that can increase the risk of substance misuse, such as excessive or unpredictable work hours or “toxic work environments”; and
  • Examining practices and policies regarding alcohol use during work-related social events and other work activities.

Topics recommended for worker education and training include SUD and recovery literacy, company substance use policies, and available benefits such as employee assistance programs (EAPs).

The Recovery-Ready Workplace guidance also recommends that mangers and supervisors communicate with employees about substance misuse and SUDs.

The ONDCP also funded an effort by the Legislative Analysis and Public Policy Association (LAPPA) to create a model law for state legislatures to support recovery-ready workplaces.

Acting Secretary of Labor Julie A. Su encouraged employers to hire and retain workers in recovery from SUDs. “At the Department of Labor, we know that our economy is at its strongest when we are tapping into the talent of workers from all communities, and that includes individuals with substance use disorders,” Su said in a White House statement.

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