Addressing the opioid epidemic in the workplace
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are over 42,000 opioid-related deaths in the United States each year. And according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, drug overdoses are one of the leading causes of death for Americans under the age of 50. With the popularity of synthetic opioids surging, experts predict the death toll will only increase.
In the most basic terms, the CDC defines opioids as “a class of drugs used to reduce pain.” However, not all opioids are the same. There is a wide range of legal and illegal drugs that are classified as opioids.
Unlike other drug epidemics, the reach of opioids is unique. Although in different ways, this crisis affects all people in all economic classes. People who can afford prescription drugs are just as susceptible to an overdose as those who cannot afford them because of the unprecedented availability of cheap substitutes. This can make it extremely difficult to create a meaningful opioid strategy.
Estimates show the opioid epidemic costs the U.S. economy over $95 billion annually, with employers paying $18 billion of that. And, these figures are only expected to rise.
With more employees falling victim to addiction, employers are faced with lower productivity, higher health care costs and fewer qualified job applicants, which means employers should try to do everything possible to combat the impact opioids have in the workplace.
There is no silver bullet for this crisis. However, exploring new initiatives can help in the development of a strategy that best suits the needs of your employees.
Opioid abuse is not happening in a vacuum. Even if employees themselves are not using opioids, their lives may be affected by loved ones who are. This can indirectly affect their job performance and contribute to the overall crisis.
Employers should do their best to provide employees with educational materials to help them understand and take action against the opioid crisis. Lasting reform can only happen if individuals take charge of their situation. Educating employees is the first step.
Consider the following suggestions when developing your own communication campaign:
- Explain the Risks: Reminding people about addiction’s tragic side effects could help motivate them to abstain from or seek treatment. Directly facing the consequences of your actions can be powerful, especially when paired with other resources. Try putting up posters or sending information directly to employees that will bring attention to the dangers of opioid misuse.
- Encourage Employees to Talk With a Doctor: Sometimes employees do not think to talk to their doctors about opioid abuse. Educate employees on the importance of talking openly with their doctors. If they are worried about losing a prescription, explain that there are other ways to treat chronic pain effectively. Most importantly, reassure employees that their doctors are there to help, not get them in trouble for misusing medication.
- Promote Your EAP: Employee assistance programs (EAPs) can be extremely beneficial for your workforce. An EAP explicitly geared toward opioids can help employees deal with this debilitating addiction and put energy back into their job.
Managers are an organization’s first line of defense for mitigating the effects of opioids in the workplace. These are the individuals who help train, evaluate and manage employees, which allows them to view the opioid impact on a personal level. Since managers interact individually with employees on a regular basis, they can more easily spot patterns and identify an employee who may be exhibiting signs of substance abuse. Training managers to recognize these signs is extremely important for getting ahead of opioid addiction in your workplace.
A survey conducted by the National Business Group on Health found the following five initiatives to be the most common among employers across the country:
- Provide opioid abuse training in the workplace to increase awareness.
- Work with health plans to encourage physicians to consider alternative treatment for pain.
- Expand coverage for pain management alternatives.
- Limit coverage of opioids to a network of pharmacies or providers.
- Limit the number of opioids on initial prescriptions.
By understanding the scope of the epidemic, acknowledging the risks your workforce faces and re-evaluating internal policies, your organization can more effectively manage employees struggling with opioid addiction. Speak with your Account Executive if you have any questions about where to begin on your journey to a safe and productive work environment. Together we can help improve the health of your business, your employees and your bottom line.