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Opioids in the Workplace

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Opioid Addiction in the WorkplaceOpioids in the Workplace

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, America is experiencing an “unprecedented opioid epidemic.” It seems there’s a story is in the news every day about the toll it’s taking on society. And the statistics are unsettling:

  • The number of people diagnosed with opioid use disorder spiked nearly 500% from 2010 through 2016, but there was only a 65% increase in the number of people getting treatment.
  • According to the CDC, opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) killed more than 33,000 people in 2015.
  • It’s estimated that another 2.5 million Americans struggle with opioid addiction.
  • 21% of Blue Cross and Blue Shield commercially insured members filled at least one opioid prescription in 2015.

As the epidemic worsens, it’s no surprise that many employers are wondering what they should do to minimize the risk within the workplace.

According to a recent survey initiated by the National Safety Council, more than 70% of U.S. employers say they have been impacted in some way by employee misuse of legally prescribed medications.

While it is commonplace for organizations to have formal drug-free workplace policies directed at illegal drugs, along with alcohol abuse policies, most don’t have one in place that addresses the abuse of prescription drugs. Commonly abused medications include hydrocodone (prescription medications Lortab and Vicodin, for example); benzodiazepines (tranquilizers like Valium, Librium, Xanax); barbiturates (phenobarbital, butalbital, secobarbital, downers); methadone (increasingly prescribed as a painkiller); buprenorphine (often used to treat heroin addiction); and stimulants (like Ritalin and Dexedrine).

Just like illegal drugs, employees who abuse legally-prescribed drugs are more likely to take unexcused absences, be late for work, quit or be fired, be involved in workplace incidents, and file workers’ compensation claims.

What Should Employers Do?

The National Safety Council provides a free Prescription Drug Employer Kit to help employers create prescription drug policies and manage opioid use at work. The kit recommends actions that employers can take, including:

  • Educate employees about the health and productivity issues related to prescription drug abuse.
  • Incorporate information about substance abuse in workplace wellness programs or strategies.
  • Offer health benefits that provide coverage for substance abuse disorders.
  • Expand drug testing to include prescription drugs.
  • Publicize drug-free workplace policies and incorporate guidelines regarding prescription drugs.
  • Provide employee assistance programs (EAPs), wellness and work-life programs that include information and services related to substance abuse prevention, treatment and return to work issues.
  • Train managers to recognize and respond to substance abuse issues so problems can be addressed in uniform, cost-effective and business-sensitive ways.

Save a Job, Save a Life

The National Safety Council encourages employers to combine firm enforcement of prescription drug use policy with support and programs to help their employees. When an employee is able to obtain help because of the resources available to them and keep their job, both employee and employer benefit. The employee regains their health and dignity, and the employer acquires a productive worker that is loyal and grateful. Something they can both feel good about.

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