Legislation Drugs

Legislators call for advisory committee on opioids in the workforce

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Washington — Lawmakers have proposed bipartisan legislation that would create a committee to advise Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta on ways the Department of Labor could help combat opioid misuse and addiction in the workforce.

Reps. Jason Lewis (R-MN) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA) on May 21 introduced a bill (HR 5892) that would establish a 19-member advisory group appointed by the secretary of labor. Members would include employers, employees, workplace safety experts, human resources professionals, medical doctors, licensed therapists, academic researchers, state and local officials, and other experts, a fact sheet on the bill states.

The Advisory Committee on Opioids in the Workplace would:

  • Discuss opioid abuse and its impact on employer substance abuse policies, employer-provided benefits, workplace safety, productivity and absenteeism, alternative pain management treatments, employee privacy, community-based initiatives, and workplace policies to reduce the stigma of opioid abuse.
  • Issue a report covering successful programs and best practices for employers to engage with employees affected by opioid misuse.

The proposed legislation comes amid uneasiness from a coalition of 42 organizations, which in April sent a letter to Acosta voicing its concern about “recent reports that the Department of Labor is stalling, disbanding and allowing the lapse of several critical federal advisory committees” within OSHA.

In a May 22 press release, Cartwright called the creation of the committee “an important step to reducing the destructive reach of misused opioids.”

“It’s no secret that opioid abuse is an epidemic nationwide, and it bleeds into all aspects of life, including the workplace,” Lewis said in the release. “Therefore, in order to effectively combat this crisis, we must include a workplace focus.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 42,000 Americans died from opioid-related overdoses in 2016, with 40 percent of those deaths involving prescription painkillers. In 2015, results of a national survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed that 75 percent of adults ages 18 to 64 with substance misuse disorders are in the workforce.

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