NSC: Opioids being prescribed for too long; workplace affected

Ninety-nine percent of doctors prescribe opioid pain medication for longer than the three-day timetable recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the results of a new survey conducted by the National Safety Council.

The findings highlight the need for more education and better training to combat the epidemic of prescription opioid abuse, which kills an average of 52 people every day, said NSC medical advisor Dr. Donald Teater. More than 1 out of 5 doctors who participated in the survey conducted by NSC said they prescribe at least a month’s worth of opioids – 10 times greater than recommended in CDC’s guidelines, which were released March 18.

Teater said the findings have implications for both workers and employers.

“I think this is very important in the workplace,” Teater said during a conference call. “Opioid pain medications, whether they’re prescribed or whether they’re taken illicitly, are impairing. Employers need to have it in their policy that employees cannot be taking opioid pain medications at work, in particular if they’re working in a safety-sensitive position.

“But they also need to understand that many of their employees may become addicted in the future or may be addicted now, so they need to be educating their employees on this through safety talks or whatever other mechanisms they can.”

Teater did not discount the fact that many people suffer from serious pain. But he said non-opioid medications such as NSAIDs, acetaminophen and ibuprofen often are effective alternatives to addictive opioid medications such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and codeine.

“We need to have open conversations with patients about alternatives to opioids,” Teater said. “When they want opioids, we need to show them that there are better alternatives that can relieve their pain and are safer for them.”

NSC has developed an online resource for addressing opioids in the workplace.