Top Killer of Certain Adults, Accidental Prescription Drug Overdose

Posted on Monday, April 08, 2019

If you're wondering what the number one accidental killer of adults in this country is, look no further than the medicine cabinet. The top killer of adult Americans is now the accidental overdose, largely thanks to powerful prescription medications. Poisoning as a result of drug overdose actually overtook car accidents as a killer in 2011, for the first time since World War II. While 34,600 deaths occured that year from car accidents, 34,900 Americans died from drug overdosing.

It's not household chemicals causing the vast majority of the poisoning. Ninety percent of poisoning deaths are due to drugs, which cause about 6,748 emergency room visits every day. And each day, roughly 105 people die of drug overdoses.

Furthermore, these same drugs could be feeding into auto fatality statistics: Those taking prescription drugs are 140 percent more likely to be involved in car accidents than the general population.

Most clinical overdose cases resulting in death aren't from cocaine, heroin or other illegal street drugs. Rather, they are related to use of prescription drugs meant to help us. Often, they are opioid-related compounds like the popular pain-killers Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin.

Risk Factors

The following risk factors are associated with medically significant and potentially lethal overdoses of prescription drugs:

Many doctors working with the same patient. Often they will write prescriptions not knowing what else the patient is taking. Some patients will deliberately mislead doctors to obtain more pills, either to sell or because of a dependency.
Intravenous delivery. Needles are more dangerous than pills.
The combination of opioids with hypnotics or sedatives
Methadone protocols
Extended release
Early refills
Rapid increases in dosage
Prescription 'sharing'

How Employers Can Help

One easy step employers can take in assisting employees with prescription medication addiction, or managing the risk of accidental overdose, is to provide addictions treatment information in the employee break room. Refer them to the website

Note: Employers can't simply terminate employees who use prescription medications. This is because federal law provides employment protections to individuals with medical conditions and disabilities. However, you may well be able to make certain reasonable adjustments, such as swapping responsibilities around so that workers on powerful medications aren't driving or operating dangerous equipment.

Drug Screens

Note that not all routine drug screens check for the presence of prescription medications. If this is a concern to you, you may need to check with your vendor about adding screens for codeine, morphine and some synthetic painkillers as well.

Employee Assistance Programs

You can also provide employees with a referral to an employee assistance program. These confidential programs allow workers to seek counseling for issues outside of work. You pay a small fee per employee and the employee gets access to this extremely important benefit that could well be a life-changer for some of them. Employee assistance programs could help workers not just with addictions, but also with treatment for alcoholism, smoking, anger management, marriage and family counseling, mental health and depression, and any number of other factors which could impact employee productivity. By making an employee assistance program available to your employees, you may well be helping them become much more productive workers for you.

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Disclaimer: The information contained in Dulin, Ward & DeWald’s blog is provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial or legal advice on any subject matter. Before taking any action based on this information, we strongly encourage you to consult competent legal, accounting or other professional advice about your specific situation. Questions on blog posts may be submitted to your DWD representative.

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