Funeral homes are directly affected by the opioid crisis, which continues to impact families all over the country. Death care industry professionals must prepare to deal with practical and emotional matters caused by deaths from opioid use.
What is the Opioid Crisis?
The opioid crisis is the ongoing epidemic of use and abuse of opioid drugs in America. Opioids include both legal drugs, such as the painkillers OxyContin and morphine, and illegal drugs such as heroin. This crisis began more than 20 years ago when OxyContin came on the market. The massive uptick in opioid abuse has led to more than 450,000 overdose deaths nationwide.
Death Care Industry Professionals and the Opioid Crisis
Death care industry professionals are on the front lines of the aftermath of the opioid epidemic. Preparing the bodies of overdose victims and assisting their families with funeral arrangements bring up new challenges for funeral home workers. Here are steps funeral homes can take to address the crisis.
Implement Safety Measures for Death Care Professionals
The bodies and clothing and other belongings of overdose victims may contain opioid residue. Funeral home workers who inhale or ingest that residue can suffer negative reactions and even overdose. Death care professionals should plan ahead to protect their workers from exposure and prepare treatment in case of an overdose.
- Education: Train workers in the risks of working with bodies that may carry opioid residue. This training should include an understanding of exposure through the skin or airways and the symptoms of exposure.
- Protection: Funeral homes may provide workers with protective gear such as latex gloves, respirator masks, or full protective suits.
- Treatment: Funeral homes may purchase NARCAN® (naloxone) Nasal Spray to administer in the event a worker overdoses from opioid exposure. It is available at pharmacies without a prescription.
Anticipate Changes in Funerals
Funerals for opioid overdose victims bring up unique challenges. Here are some situations that death care professionals should anticipate.
- Family needs: Families who lose a loved one to opioid overdose may need different grief resources than other families. Death care professionals should be prepared to counsel them and direct them to support services such as Nar-Anon.
- Mourners under the influence of drugs or alcohol: Funerals for opioid overdose victims may draw in peers in mourning who are under the influence.
- Law enforcement: Law enforcement officers may attend funerals to make arrests.