Workplace violence, including physical assaults and threats of assault toward people at work or on duty, is a growing issue within the healthcare setting. 

83799707_l-(1).jpgAccording to OSHA, 75 percent of workplace assaults reported annually occurred in healthcare and social service settings. And, from 2002 to 2013, incidents of serious workplace violence were four times more common in healthcare than any other industry.

Despite the common belief that the majority of violence occurs between co-workers, statistics show that 80 percent of incidents stem from patients. While patients and family members understandably tend to be in distress when at the hospital, there are several other factors that contribute to workplace violence in healthcare – including the rising misuse of opioids.
Drug overdoses continue to increase in the United States, including the abuse of opioids. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, fentanyl and pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others.  In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died as a direct result of opioid abuse. On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
With the alarming increase in opioid abuse, healthcare workers often treat patients that may be under the influence of drugs or experiencing their side effects. This increases the risk of violence since opioids have the ability to send users into a state of psychosis, causing physical agitation and irritation that could be taken out on caregivers. Additionally, due to the intense addictive nature, some users will go to great lengths to feed their addiction. This may include threatening or bullying healthcare workers into giving them what they want.
In order to best handle workplace violence stemming from opioid abuse, it is imperative that healthcare facilities implement protocol and strong preventative measures to make the hospital environment as safe as possible for both patients and employees.
Here are methods healthcare facilities can use to minimize the physical threat on employees stemming from opioid abuse.
Threat Assessment Teams
One method of ensuring safety is the implementation of threat assessment teams. This formally trained team is comprised of healthcare facility administrators, counselors, current employees, medical and behavioral health professionals and law enforcement personnel. They are responsible for addressing concerns about threatening or potentially threatening behavior that could result in violence.
Power in Numbers
If a known abuser is checked in to a healthcare facility, it is important that healthcare workers aren’t alone during treatment. Depending on the state or history of the patient, it is recommended that healthcare workers treat in numbers or with the supervision of a Threat Assessment Team member.
Identify Risk Factors
Finally, in order for healthcare workers to minimize risk and guarantee staff are as safe as possible, risk factors must be identified in advance. For example, is the workplace located in an area with a high drug rate? Do employees deal with people known to have or suspected to have a history of violence and opioid use? It’s important to understand these risks and educate employees on what they can do to minimize the risk of violence. When factors such as these are considered, healthcare workers are more likely to be protected from potentially violent incidents.