According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 100,000 Americans died of drug overdose between April 2020 and April 2021, exceeding the death toll of any year since the 1990s when the opioid epidemic began. In 2021, overdose deaths rose 15% over the previous year, averaging one death every five minutes. Overdose deaths caused by synthetic fentanyl have become the number one cause of death in the United States among 18- 45 year-olds. This crisis is having an immense impact on families, communities, and businesses.

Discussion Points:
• What is the leading cause of death in the U.S. among 18-45 year-olds?
• Employers can help employees by establishing an Employee Assistance Program;
• What are three goals of International Overdose Awareness Day?
• What should you do if you are having trouble coping with work-related stress?
• What leads to an overdose?

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced new risks and presented extraordinary challenges for Americans impacted by substance use disorder. Factors contributing to this crisis include the restrictions people had to follow, such as social distancing, quarantine, and disruptions to medical and other community services, as many businesses and treatment centers reduced their hours of service or closed. Many people struggled to adapt to the new social routines; not being able to interact with friends, family, and co-workers. Through their struggles with stress, isolation, inactivity, anxiety, and depression, many people turned to or increased their use of alcohol and drugs. The increased use or misuse of alcohol, medications, and recreational drugs alone or in combination, increased overdose risk. Experts have reported that the use of synthetic fentanyl has had a significant effect because a very small amount can be fatal.

Human Resource Professionals and employers address the effects of the opioid crisis on the workforce through training, education, communication, and awareness. Employers can help employees by establishing programs such as an Employee Assistance Program and providing referrals to community services. August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day which is recognized annually and is the world’s largest campaign to help prevent overdose by raising awareness and remembering those who have died of an overdose. You can participate in any number of events sponsored by government agencies and various non-governmental community groups and institutions, or hold your event using this toolkit as a guide. There are several different events you can choose to sponsor that aim to educate our communities about drugs, including workplace, online, and community events, or memorials and vigils. OSHA also provides resources for suicide prevention on its website.

As always, be safe out there!