The unique needs of first responders and related workers must not be forgotten as the nation combats the opioid epidemic. This was the core message of comments the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) recently submitted to the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. Workers who may be exposed include first responders such as law enforcement, DEA agents, and EMTs, as well as crime lab analysts and others.

"The broader opioid epidemic afflicting our nation is also placing the workers we all depend upon to help manage the consequences of this crisis and for our own personal safety and security at risk. These workers are often caught unprepared, confronted with hazards on a scale and intensity never before seen. It's clear that they now need our help. In truth, it's nothing less than our obligation to repay the debt we owe to them for the services they provide, which allow us to live in peace of mind and body," said AIHA in its comments.

AIHA recommends a four-pronged approach to meet the needs of each worker who may be occupationally exposed to opioids and their synthetic analogues:

  1. Identify all the workers (including volunteers) who may be exposed and the specific activities that place them at risk for exposure.
  2. Identify the work practices and personal protective equipment (PPE) that have been successfully adopted by the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries and may have equal application when handling opioids and synthetics by the workers noted above.
  3. Develop specific practical guidance and training to control exposure.
  4. Provide targeted and widespread dissemination of the training and guidance to all potentially exposed workers, including through the creation of short, field-useful wallet cards and social media.

The association has been working with a variety of Federal and State policymakers to help protect first responders and others from exposure to opioids and their synthetic analogues, and will continue our work as the nation seeks to address this epidemic.

AIHA's recommendations to the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis can be found here.