As the environmental and safety manager at Central Iowa Power Cooperative, Rex Butler is an expert in accident prevention. But nothing in his professional training and experience prepared him for a personal tragedy outside the workplace.
In 2006, Rex’s younger brother was preparing to have spinal surgery when he died of an accidental overdose of methadone. Bill Butler, a machinist, had been taking hydrocodone for chronic back pain but, seeking more relief, called his doctor for something stronger. He was prescribed methadone, which he took before bedtime. The 30-year-old father of two never woke up.
“It’s been 13 years, but it always lingers. He was three years my junior, and I’ll always think of him as my baby brother,” Butler told a National Safety Council press conference Sept. 18 in Washington, D.C.
Butler shared his story as part of an event to release of NSC’s free
Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit. Other speakers included U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor Loren Sweatt and Lorraine Martin, president and CEO of NSC.
“Employers play a critical role in solving the nation’s opioid crisis,” said Adams. “The National Safety Council toolkit provides employers with a framework to effectively address employee opioid misuse and help employees get treatment if they need it.”
The NSC developed the new resource based in part on the
“National Employer Survey on Opioid Usage in the Workplace” released earlier this year. Among the findings: 75% of employers have been directly affected by opioid misuse, but most say they aren’t confident they can handle the problem with current resources.
Martin added that two-thirds of working Americans with opioid misuse disorders are in the workforce, noting that nearly 80% of employers aren’t confident that individual employees could spot the warning signs of opioid misuse.
“Prescription opioids are legal, and many employees are recovering from workplace injuries and take them as a normal course of treatment,” she said.
The NSC toolkit includes more than two dozen resources on opioids, including educational materials about prevention, treatment and recovery. It also includes a sample policy for human resources professionals; an overview of how impairment affects safety; a guide for supervisors on how to communicate with employees about opioids; and a postage-paid envelope for employees to return unused drugs.
Martin called on employers to equip their workplace first-aid kits with Naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug. She said employers should provide supervisor education around opioid misuse and include access to treatment options in their employee assistance programs.
Butler said his appearances as an NSC survivor advocate have given him an avenue for managing his grief: “To know that my brother, Bill, can actually impact the lives of people he’s never met before as a result of losing him is an incredible motivation to me.”