Opioid Epidemic: Cold-storage trailers are being used as morgues, Police at risk of Opioid Exposure
Every month there seems to be more and more news articles covering the opioid epidemic. It is easy to ignore or be desensitized by all this news, but it is very important for employers to be aware of what is happening outside of their office.
Here are two stories that should help you realize how serious this epidemic is so you can prepare for it in your own workplace.
Cold-storage trailers are being used as morgues
Kristine Phillips, Washington Post
A county morgue in east Ohio was full with more bodies than were expected. Rick Walters, an investigator for the Stark County coroner’s office, had just left for two death scenes: a suicide and an overdose.
From the road, he called the director of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency to ask for help. He needed more space, he explained — specifically, a cold-storage trailer to act as an overflow morgue.
As with much of the United States, Ohio is in the throes of a heroin and opioid epidemic that shows no signs of abating. The request for a cold-storage trailer highlights the epidemic ravaging the state.
In Ohio, drug overdoses have led to a spike in the number of bodies coming to the Stark County morgue of about 20 percent in the last year.
“I’ve been involved in public safety for 40 some years; I remember the drug problem we had in the late ’60s and early ’70s when I joined the department,” Walters said. “The fatality numbers are nothing even close to this.”
Last year, the coroner’s office processed about 500 deaths, more than 100 of which were drug-related, Walters said. Statewide, the numbers are staggering.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, the number of opioid-related deaths skyrocketed from 296 in 2003 to 2,590 in 2015 — a 775 percent jump over a 13-year period. These numbers include deaths involving prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl, which is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.
Police at risk of Opioid Exposure
Martin Kaste, NPR News
Hazardous as they may be for those who take them, opioids are also endangering police in this country. Officers respond to overdoses, they also try to arrest dealers. And as they come in contact with synthetic drugs, the risk of an accidental overdose is greater than in the past. Some drugs are now so potent that just a few grains can kill.
About two weeks ago in Hartford County, Md., a sheriff’s deputy named Kevin Phillips was in someone’s basement helping out on a drug overdose call. Hunting around for more drugs, Phillips looked over into a nearby nightstand drawer.
“Didn’t see anything, didn’t touch anything. It just looked like a junk drawer. And then I shut it. And about two seconds after I shut it, like, my face started burning. I broke out in an immediate sweat. And I just stood there for a couple seconds just kind of like, did I just get exposed to something?”
A lab test later showed fentanyl, an opioid that’s up to 50 times stronger than heroin. He barely made it up the stairs to the kitchen, where an EMT gave him the anti-overdose drug Narcan. He’s fine now, but looking back, what’s remarkable is that as far as he can tell, he was exposed to the drug just by breathing in some unseen grains that were carried up by the puff of air that came out of the drawer as he shut it.
This is making cops rethink their tactics. For instance, SWAT teams – when they raid drug operations, they often start out by tossing in flash-bangs, stun grenades to disorient anyone who might have a gun. But what happens when one of those grenades hits a stash of opioids?
Sergeant John Cavanna of the police department in Hartford, Conn. describes the white dust that they raised with a flash-bang during a raid last September, “It was thick enough where you could see it with flashlight beams.”
One reason police are holding off on wearing eye-protection or gas-mask gear is Narcan. The anti-overdose drug is an effective safety net, and it’s pretty much standard equipment now for all cops and emergency responders in areas with a lot of opioid abuse. Also, while it is dangerous to inhale or touch these drugs, that kind of exposure is not as fast acting as injecting them.
Still, many police departments are now making masks and even hazmat suits available to their officers depending on the situation. Sergeant Cavanna says it’s all about deciding whether you’re more worried about fentanyl poisoning or, as he puts it, acute lead poisoning.
What Can Companies Do To Stay Ahead Of The Opioid Epidemic In The Workplace?
Combating potential prescription opioid abuse in the workplace involves, but is not limited to the following prevention strategies:
- Educate employees about responsible prescription opioid use. When used responsibly, opioids are potentially an effective tool to mask acute pain for the worker. It’s also important to educate workers about the potency of these drugs, how they work, how they interact with other drugs and how they can become addictive.
- Understanding and communicating the risk factors for opioid abuse is vital for prevention in the manufacturing industry. Employees should learn about doctor shopping, physician dispensing and other risk factors supported by evidence.
- Provide support and safe return to work to injured employees. If a worker is injured, it is important to provide strong social support from fellow workers, especially the immediate supervisor, and management so that they may safely return to work. The most important person in returning an employee back to work is the immediate supervisor. A strong social support system can help the worker and prevent any further injury to themselves or others.
- Communicate treatment options. If treatment is necessary, it is important to educate the worker on options, including counseling and pharmaceutical treatment. Drug addiction is a brain disease that can be treated effectively.
- Reasonable Suspicion Training is a tool for your company’s workforce leaders to determine if and/or when an employee may be impaired and then know the necessary steps to take to protect your company and the employee as it relates to specific company drug and alcohol policy compliance and safety, including painkillers in the workplace.
The training will include the physical, behavioral, speech, and performance indicators of alcohol misuse and use of controlled substances. This class is REQUIRED for DOT and highly valuable for companies not Federally regulated, learn more today.