Safety leaders urged to take on drug abuse issue

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The U.S. National Safety Council kicked off its annual congress and expo this week with a call to safety professionals to take on the issue of illegal drugs in the workplace, communities and homes. 
The death rate from unintentional drug overdose more than tripled in the last 20 years, most of which involved male and female of working age or those between 20 and 64 years old, according to statistics provided by the NSC.

Janet Froetscher, NSC president and CEOIn her opening remarks, NSC president and CEO Janet Froetscher commended safety professionals for helping reduce injuries and deaths in the workplace, while urging them to take their expertise beyond the workplaces and into the homes and communities.

“In the last 15 years, we have seen a 19 per cent reduction in the United States’ death rates from injuries in both workplaces and from motor vehicles. However, during the same time, the injury death rate in our homes and communities has increased by 44 per cent,” Froetscher said.

She added one of the reasons for the high fatality rate is that the level of investment from both the private and public sectors to prevent injuries in homes and communities is low compared to investments made to keep workplaces and highways safe.

The NSC president focused on the issue of unintentional drug overdose, which she says is one of the most significant home and community safety issues leading to injuries and deaths. In 2006, about 24,000 people died in the U.S. from unintentional drug overdose, representing a 100 per cent increase since 2000.

Unintentional poisoning has now exceeded drunk driving as the leading, singular cause of motor vehicle crashes, according to the NSC.

Echoing Froetscher’s call, William Bennett, former U.S. secretary of education and dubbed the first “drug czar”, urged safety leaders to help raise awareness on the issue of illegal drugs and prescription drug overdose in his keynote address at the opening ceremony.

“Not many years ago, we got (illegal) drug use down in this country, down to record levels. We did because we took it seriously. We took it seriously as a nation and as a culture. We are losing that sensibility today and the numbers prove it,” Bennett said.

The former cabinet secretary acknowledged that the country is facing tough economic times and pointed out that addressing the issue of safety and curbing drug abuse, particularly in the workplace, also affects the economic bottom line.

In a press briefing that followed the opening session, Bennett reiterated the call to raise the issue of prescription drug abuse and urged the two U.S. presidential candidates, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, to talk about how their specific programs on drug abuse prevention.

The 95th NSC Congress and Expo is being held at the Anaheim Convention Center from September 22 to September 24.