May 12, 2021

NIOSH Publishes Fact Sheet on Prescription Opioid, Benzodiazepine Safety and Health

A new document (PDF) published by NIOSH is intended to help employers and healthcare providers understand the possible occupational health and safety issues associated with the use of prescription opioids or benzodiazepines. Opioids are often prescribed for pain management while benzodiazepines are often taken for anxiety or insomnia. These medications may be prescribed to workers who suffer from occupational injuries such as those resulting from falls, ergonomic hazards, or motor vehicle crashes or workers who experience job-related stress. However, opioid and benzodiazepine use is associated with side effects that can impact occupational health and safety.

The document summarizes the common side effects of prescription opioid and benzodiazepine use, such as feelings of sleepiness and dizziness, physical and cognitive impairment, memory problems, and lack of posture control, possibly leading to falls. Workers using prescription opioid and benzodiazepine medications may be less alert and may show impaired decision-making. Their performance of safety-sensitive tasks and tasks that require brain-eye-hand coordination may be negatively affected, especially when combined with work-related fatigue such as that resulting from shift work or long hours. Even when taken as prescribed, opioid medication use is associated with increased risk-taking behaviors.

NIOSH urges healthcare professionals and employers to consult several other CDC and NIOSH resources listed in the document to learn more about specific issues related to prescribing opioid medications and the importance of preventing and reducing work-related hazards. Additionally, the document recommends that healthcare professionals seek alternatives for opioid pharmacologic therapy for chronic pain and, if opioid pain therapy is necessary, to prescribe the lowest possible effective dosage. Healthcare providers should also frequently evaluate benefits and harms of opioid use, mitigate risks using education, review prescription drug monitoring data, avoid prescribing opioid and benzodiazepine medications concurrently, and offer or arrange treatment for opioid use disorder.

For more information, visit NIOSH’s website.