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America is in the midst of an epidemic of opioid abuse. Use of these medicines, also commonly known as “painkillers”, has exploded over the last two decades.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that opioid prescriptions nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2013. Prescription opioids include medicines such as Vicodin, morphine and methadone.

Opioid addiction is a tragedy for individuals and their families, but it is also having a profound impact on businesses and organizations. Consider:

An economist at Goldman Sachs reported in July 2017 that addiction to opioids is partly responsible for the failure of many prime working-age men to rejoin the workforce since the end of the Great Recession.

  • The National Safety Council has reported that 39% of employers have experienced absenteeism problems from employees using prescription drugs. Another 29% have seen impaired or decreased job performance, 22% have experienced human resources complaints and reduced employee morale, 15% have experienced a near miss or injury, and 10% have actually had employees overdose at work.
  • Public libraries are beginning to stock Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of opiate overdose, and are training employees on how to administer it.
  • The president of a West Virginia dishware manufacturer said that up to half of job applicants either refuse to take or fail the mandatory pre-employment drug tests.
  • A study of workers’ compensation claims data found that treatment costs related to opioid abuse and dependence rose 1,000% over a three-year period. The maximum amount an insurer will pay for expenses related to opioid addiction increased 1,375% over the same period.

 

What you can do<

Misuse of opioids is hurting businesses’ ability to find quality employees, decreasing productivity, and raising their costs. Businesses can improve their situations by taking measures such as:

  • Recognizing the problems that misuse of opioids and other prescription drugs can cause in their businesses
  • Instituting strong policies against drug use in the workplace
  • Expanding drug panels to include opioids
  • Training employees, supervisors and managers on how to detect signs of drug misuse
  • Treating drug abuse as a disease, rather than a crime or character flaw
  • Using employee assistance programs to help get affected employees back to work
  • Reviewing health care benefits packages for options for pain treatment and programs for opioid-use-disorder treatment
  • Educating employees on the risks from abusing prescription drugs
  • Distributing disposal kits that allow people to safely dispose of unused medicines
  • Taking advantage of the discounts some states offer on workers’ compensation insurance premiums to businesses that implement drug-free workplace programs.