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Five Ways To Mitigate Opioids In The Workplace

The Problem
When it comes to opioids in the workplace, Americans must pay close attention to how it is affecting their work environment and healthcare costs. 

  • 75% of employers have been affected in some way by employee use of opioids.

  • Fewer than 50% of employers have appropriate drug-use policies in place.

  • Less than 30% of employers have insurance and benefits appropriately structured to deal with opioid misuse. 

Opioid prescriptions are present in 32% of workers' compensation claims with 14 or more missed workdays and 57% with 180 or more missed workdays. Because the opioid crisis is often formidable and complex for employers to manage, we have identified four actions employers can take to fill the gaps. 

#1 Prevention and Education 
Patients always have a choice of using non-opioid options to support relief during recovery. Research shows that for types of pain related to common workplace injuries, opioids are not any more effective than non-opioid alternatives such as Tylenol, Advil, or ibuprofen. 

#2 Detection
It is crucial to review and update your drug screening/testing policy and process.  A typical five-panel urine test screens for Amphetamines (meth, ecstasy), Marijuana, Cocaine, Phencyclidine (PCP, angel dust), and Opioids (heroin, opium, codeine, morphine). Noticeably missing from the opioid list are the most frequently used prescriptions: oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Employers should consider using the eight, 10, and 12-panel drug screens to detect these medications. Prescription opioid medications present health, safety, and productivity issues within the workplace. Train managers and supervisors to recognize the signs of behavioral and performance-related impairment due to opioids. 

#3 Treatment and Recovery
Recovery is difficult and usually involves a combination of medication and counseling.  Medication replacement therapies are the most effective treatment for opioid addiction. 

Research indicates that employer-supported and monitored treatment yields better-sustained recovery rates than treatment initiated at the request of friends and family members. Employers should publicize and promote resources, identify, and ensure employees have access to treatment and recovery options, and consider partnering with the Center of Excellence in Healthcare. 

#4 Reboarding
Retaining an employee following successful treatment is good for morale and the company's bottom line. It is the employers' responsibility to determine whether an employee can perform their job while taking a medication known to cause impairment. "Fitness for duty" and "return to work" criteria vary, and employers must work closely with legal counsel and human resources to develop workplace policies around these issues. Good planning will ensure successful reboarding of employees who have completed treatment back into the workplace. 

#5 Reduce Stigma in the Workplace
An excellent way to reduce the stigma surrounding opioid addiction is through communication. By establishing good communication between management and staff, employers affected by opioid use may feel more secure in reporting their issues under personal circumstances. Nevertheless, employees must realize that if opioids are compromising their ability to work correctly, there may be consequences in the form of job reassignment, rehabilitation, counseling, etc. 

Opioids can create problems within the workplace, but there are several actions employers can take to help mitigate the impact on their company's workforce. Get more detailed information by downloading our insights Opioids in the Workplace and Reboarding: Understanding the Wiring of the Human Brain and Moving Forward

Health Action Council is a not-for-profit 501(c)(6) organization representing mid-and large-size employers that enhance human and economic health through thought leadership, innovative services, and collaboration. It provides value to its members by facilitating projects that improve the quality and moderate the cost of healthcare purchased by its members for their employees, dependents, and retirees. Health Action Council also collaborates with key stakeholders – health plans, physicians, hospitals, and the pharmaceutical industry – to improve healthcare quality and efficiency in the community. 

Patty Starr bio image

About the author

Patty Starr

Patty Starr is president and CEO of Health Action Council and is responsible for driving the strategic direction of the organization--build stronger, healthier communities where business can thrive. 

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