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Check out our weekly blog posts and see the latest news and discussions happening in the HR world of business.

Steps Companies Can Take to Curb Employee Opioid Abuse

Considered the deadliest drug crisis in American history, the opioid epidemic hit the US hard and fast, with current data suggesting that opioid use claims the lives of 90 Americans each day.

Responding to these staggering figures, President Trump earlier this year declared opioid abuse a public health emergency and individual states, cities and municipalities are stepping up their own efforts to curtail this dangerous new trend.

While we tend to think of employers as being somewhat removed from these issues, research has time and time again showed that this type of drug misuse spans all income, racial and social lines and sadly no one is immune to its devastation. Further, statistics suggest that it’s impacting businesses now more than ever: according to figures released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the estimated lost productivity for people in the United States with opioid use disorder totaled $20.4 billion in 2013. With this in mind, many companies are taking steps to prevent this crisis from impacting their business.

According to a recent survey by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH),  80 percent of large employers are “concerned” about employees’ abuse of prescription opioids, with 53 percent admitting that they’re “very concerned” about the potential for this type of abuse. The NBGH notes that to date, nearly one-third of large businesses have altered their health plans to restrict the use of prescription opioids, while a further 21 percent have added programs to manage prescription opioid usage.

These restrictions can take the form of limiting the quantity of pills on initial prescriptions for opioids; restricting coverage of opioids to a network of pharmacies and/or providers; expanding coverage of alternatives for pain management, such as physical therapy; providing training in the workplace to increase awareness and recognition of the signs of opioid abuse; and working with health plans to encourage physicians to counsel patients about the dangers of opioids and to consider alternatives for pain management.

Reflecting on the survey findings, Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of NBGH, notes that “the opioid crisis is a growing concern among large employers, and with good reason. The misuse and abuse of opioids could negatively impact employee productivity, workplace costs, the availability of labor, absenteeism and disability costs, workers’ compensation claims, as well as overall medical expenses.”

Further, the National Safety Council recommends that companies proactively take steps to update workplace policies to provide protection against issues associated with opioid use. Specifically, the agency recommends that companies:

  • Create a drug-free workplace program that states what workers must do if they are prescribed any opiate or other drug that may cause impairment
  • Work with an attorney to create a program under which employers can legally revise their drug testing policy to include testing for drugs that are legally prescribed but frequently abused.
  • Craft an air-tight policy that outlines exactly what will happen should opioid abuse be detected in the workplace, including what options are available to employees (leave options, suspensions, etc.), as well as how any return to the workplace should be handled.

With more than 25 years of experience in human resources, Abel HR can help you create programs, drug testing policies and handling any issues that may arise. Our experts can guide you through any situation, contact us at info@abelhr.com or call us at 800-400-1968.

Beyond the recommendations listed above, the National Safety Council has a number of resources that can help you navigate prescription drug/opioid misuse in the workplace, including a hand out with specific tips that employers can follow to protect themselves and their employees. To view a full menu of these resources, click here.


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