What You Should Do if Someone Overdoses on Opioids at Work

The opioid epidemic is still growing, and it's seeping into seemingly safe places like work. Employers need to be one step ahead to stop an overdose before it's too late.
By: | November 6, 2018 • 3 min read

In the battle to fight the opioid epidemic, one of the newest fronts is the office. According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, with the number of deaths in workplace settings on the rise.


“As prescriptions for medications to manage pain have increased, so have addiction and its consequences,” said Matt Verdecchia, senior trainer/organizational development, EAP + Work/Life Services, Health Advocate, a leading health concierge and benefits solutions company.

“This issue is far-reaching and widespread, affecting organizations within every industry and region.”

Just this month, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released a new fact sheet on using naloxone to reverse opioid overdose in the workplace.

An overdose reversal medication, naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, can be administered in the event of an overdose until first responders arrive on the scene.

There are no known harmful effects to giving naloxone to someone who is not overdosing, so the risks involved are minimal, said Margaret Lowenstein, a national clinician scholar at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Margaret Lowenstein, national clinician scholar at Perelman School of Medicine,UPenn

“The Surgeon General recommends keeping naloxone on hand if you’re in a situation where you’re likely to encounter an overdose,” she said. “There is good evidence that lay people can safely and effectively use it to reverse overdoses. States vary in their liability protection for bystanders using naloxone with many offering Good Samaritan protections. Many states also have a standing order prescription to allow anyone to obtain it from a pharmacy, and it will be covered by your insurance.”

Preparing for the Worst Case Scenario

The first step for business owners and managers is addressing the breadth and depth of this epidemic — addiction does not yield to the eight-hour work day, and despite zero-tolerance drug policies, employees, clients and other workers are no more immune to the risks of overdose than anyone else. What’s more, some employees may be taking opioids responsibly as treatment for pain conditions.

Matt Verdecchia, senior trainer/organizational development, EAP + Work/Life Services, Health Advocate

“Education and training are key to raising awareness of the issue, including those affected who might be in denial. To reduce the stigma surrounding opioids, experts can help explain the difference between practical uses of these medications as well as how to identify those at risk,” Verdecchia said.

“It’s important to provide ongoing support for all employees. Ensure programs and resources are in place to support the individual as well as those around them within and beyond the workplace. Keep in mind that employees who are not taking opioids themselves may have family members at home experiencing addiction, which can still impact their productivity, focus and health.

“Finally, it is time to revisit zero tolerance or ‘drug-free workplace’ policies. Experience has shown that these can backfire and prevent people from seeking help,” he said.

Employee Assistance Programs can help organizations develop in-house training and education programs, create resources for ongoing support of staff and develop better policies that acknowledge the reality of addiction as a disease.


“It may help to think of addiction in the same category as other chronic illnesses,” Verdecchia said. “It is a serious disease that, in many cases, cannot be prevented by the individual or their employer — however, it is possible to decrease risk to the organization if handled appropriately.”

In the Event of an Overdose

“There are two keys to handling an overdose in an emergency situation. The first is learning to recognize an actual overdose, and the second is calling emergency assistance immediately,” said Lowenstein.

 Identify an overdose by these key signs:

  • Unconsciousness/unresponsiveness
  • Bluish tint to lips, skin or nail beds
  • Difficulty breathing or shallow breathing
  • Gurgling sounds that indicate a blocked airway
  • Dilated pupils in the event of an opioid overdose

Recommended Response Plan

  1. Call 911.
  2. Administer naloxone or Narcan if available.
  3. If the individual is not breathing, administer rescue breathing (chest compressions are not necessary unless there is no pulse).
  4. Turn the individual on their side and wait for help.
  5. Have them stay in place until they can be examined by medical responders to see if more treatment is required. &
Elisa Ludwig is a contract writer based outside Philadelphia. She has written extensively about cybersecurity issues for the Junto blog on the eRiskHub. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

In the Fast-Paced World of Retail, This Risk Manager Strives to Mitigate Risks Proactively and Keep Senior Leaders Informed

Janine Kral works to identify and mitigate risks, building strong partnerships with leaders and ensuring they see her as support rather than a blocker. 
By: | October 29, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My very first paid job was working on my uncle’s ranch in British Columbia in the summers. He had cattle, horses and grapes — an unusual combo. But my first real job out of college was as a multi-line claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

Right out of college I applied for a job that turned out to be a claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual. I accepted because they were offering six weeks of training in Southern California, and at the time that sounded really fun. I spent about three years at Liberty Mutual and then I spent a short period of time at a smaller regional insurance company that hired me to start a workers’ compensation claims administration program.

I was hired at Nordstrom as the Washington Region Risk Manager, which was my first job in risk management. When I started at Nordstrom, the risk management department had about five people, and over the years it has grown to about 75. I’ve been vice president for 11 years.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

I would say that technology has probably been the biggest change. When I started many years ago, it was all paper and no RMIS.


R&I: What risks does the retail industry face that are unique?

We deal with a lot of people — employees and customers. With physical brick and mortar settings, there are the unique exposures with people moving in and out in a public environment. And of course, with ecommerce, we have a lot of customer and employee data, which creates cyber risk — which is not necessarily a unique risk in today’s environment.

R&I: Can you describe your approach to working with senior leaders and front-line staff alike to further risk management initiatives?

It starts with keeping the pulse of what’s happening with the business. Retail moves really fast. In order to identify and mitigate risks proactively, we identify top risk areas and topics, and then we ensure that we have strong partnerships with the leaders responsible for those areas. Trust is critical, ensuring that leaders see us as a support rather than a blocker.

R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?

Janine Kral, claims adjuster, Nordstrom

We have an internal risk management information system that all of our locations report events into — every type of incident is reported, whether insured or uninsured. Most of these events are managed internally by risk management, and our guidelines require that prevention be analyzed on each one. Having all event data in one system allows us to use the data for trending and also helps us better predict what may happen in the future, and who we need to work with to mitigate risks.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?

My son is a sophomore in college, and I tell him and his friends all the time not to rule out insurance as a career opportunity. My advice is to cast a wide net and do your homework. Research all the different types of opportunities. Read a lot — articles, industry magazines, LinkedIn. Be proactive and reach out to people you find interesting and ask them about their careers. Don’t be shy and wait for people and opportunities to come to you. Ask questions. Build networks. Be curious and keep an open mind.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?

I have always been passionate about continuous improvement. I want to continue to find ways to add value to my company and to this industry.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

My favorite book is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a true story about a man who was in prison in Australia after being convicted of armed robbery, and he escaped to India. While in India, he passed himself off as a doctor in a slum. It’s a really interesting story, because this is a convicted criminal who ends up helping others. I am not always successful in getting others to read the book because it’s 1,000 pages and definitely a commitment.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Fiorella’s in Newton, Massachusetts. Great Italian food and a great overall experience.


R&I: What is your favorite drink?

“Sister Carol.” I have no idea what is in it, and I can only get it at a local bar in Seattle. It’s green but it’s delicious.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Skydiving. Not tandem and without any sort of communication from the ground. Scary standing on a wing of a plane, but very peaceful once the chute opened, slowly floating down by myself.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

I can’t think of one individual person. For me, the real heroes are people who have a positive attitude in the face of adversity. People who are resilient no matter what life brings them.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

It’s rewarding to help solve problems and help people. I am proud of the support that my team provides others. &

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at kdwyer@lrp.com.