3 proactive ways to address the opioid crisis in the workplace


Our nation’s opioid crisis is becoming a growing epidemic in today’s workplaces as well. From absences to decreased productivity, opioid abuse is making a big impact on businesses. In fact, opioid abuse costs employers approximately $10 billion from absenteeism and presenteeism alone, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM).

Of course, employers aren’t the only ones hurting from the opioid epidemic. According to a survey from the National Safety Council (NSC), one in four Americans personally knows someone who has overdosed or died from an opioid overdose, knows someone who has become addicted to opioids, or has become addicted themselves.

With so many compelling reasons to curb the opioid crisis, employers are in a unique position to take preventative measures within the workplace to save more lives. Here are three ways to address the opioid crisis in your own workplace:

1. Reevaluate workplace drug policies

Employers should reconsider their current drug-free workplace programs and obtain legal counsel to advise on the best practices to address prescription opioid medication use.

According to a survey from the NSC, an alarming 81% of U.S. employers are missing a critical element to their drug-free workplace drug programs. The survey found that several important elements were missing from workplace drug policies, such as requiring employees to notify supervisors of prescription drug usage or return to work policies for employees taking impairing medications.

Related: Insurance coverage for opioid litigation

There are several important factors for employers to consider when re-examining their drug-free workplace programs in light of the opioid crisis. From updating drug testing policies to include prescription drug testing to addressing a suspected opioid abuse problem with an employee, there are several important issues to consider and discuss with a legal expert before formalizing a new drug free workplace program.

2. Train your employees to identify signs of opioid abuse

Unlike alcohol abuse where there are often more obvious signs of a problem, opioid abuse can be difficult to detect. However, if left undetected, it can not only put a person’s life in jeopardy, but employers can also put themselves at financial risk due to disability claims, lowered productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism.

Despite these health and financial concerns, employers nationwide are woefully underprepared to identify warning signs of opioid abuse among employees.

Only 13% of U.S. employers say they are very confident their workers could identify signs of opioid misuse in a co-worker, according to a survey by the NSC. Despite this lack of awareness, only 24% of survey respondents report offering employee training to help them identify signs of opioid abuse in the workplace.

Related: How to help employers address opioid addiction in the workplace

With this in mind, employers should consider hiring an expert to educate employees on the warning signs of opioid abuse. These experts can conduct a workshop, webinar or another form of training to educate human resource professionals and other employees in the workplace on this important topic.

3. Offer medication collection services

Many experts believe one of the biggest causes of the opioid crisis is the overprescription of opioid drugs. According to a study from the Department of Health and Human Resources (HHS), more than 240 million prescriptions for opioids were written in the United States in one year alone. This alarmingly high quantity is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of opioid pills.

With so many opioids in medicine cabinets across the country, we are making it dangerously easy for children, other family members and friends to access these drugs. Half (50.5%) of the people who abuse prescription drugs receive them from friends and family for free, according to data from the National Survey for Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

Related: Workers’ comp and pain management experts discuss alternatives to opioids

However, safely removing leftover medication from medicine cabinets isn’t as simple as flushing the pills down the toilet, which is incredibly dangerous for our water supply and environment. A study from JAMA Internal Medicine found that 66% of people kept unused medication, and half said they were not told by their doctor how to dispose of unneeded medication.

Providing a convenient, cost-effective way for employees to dispose of the unused and expired medication in their medicine cabinets is a simple way to proactively combat the opioid crisis within the workplace. By giving employees medication mail-back envelopes, employees can safely remove their unneeded medication from their homes and prevent opportunities for opioid abuse.

While the opioid crisis is a complex issue facing our nation, by taking these proactive measures to address the epidemic, employers can truly make a difference in the lives of their employees and our country.

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