How Employers Can Help Fight Opioid Addiction

July 30, 2019

Opioid addiction has reached a crisis point, and the impact is reaching workplaces around the country. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety:

  • Opioids killed more than 47,600 people in the U.S. in 2017.
  • Two-thirds of self-reported illicit opioid users were employed either full or part time.
  • In 2017, 272 overdose deaths occurred in the workplace, a 25 percent increase from 2013. This accounts for 5.3 percent of all occupational injury deaths.
  • Workers with substance use disorder miss 14.8 days each year on average, and workers with pain medication use disorder miss 29 days on average. For most employees, the average number of missed days is only 10.5.

The Causes of Addiction

People can turn to opioids for many reasons. However, one common cause is injury. People are often prescribed opioids to manage their pain after an injury. This can lead to addiction. People who become addicted may then turn to stronger or illegal forms of opioids.

Some of these injuries occur at work. In 2016, 44 percent of all workers’ compensation claims with prescriptions included at least one prescription for opioids. This is down from 55 percent in 2012, but it is still high.   

According to a report from the National Safety Council, when an injured worker is prescribed opioids after a workplace injury and then suffers an overdose, the workers’ compensation insurer may be responsible for treatment or death benefits under certain circumstances.

Keeping Your Workplace Safe

When taking steps to fight substance abuse, it’s important to be aware of federal and state laws. For example, lawful use of prescription drugs is protected under the ADA. Make sure your policies do not conflict with local or federal laws.

With that in mind, the following are some measures that can be implemented to fight the opioid crisis.

  • Develop a written policy on drug use. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides tips for creating a written drug-free policy.
  • Establish a drug-testing policy that includes a pre-employment screening.
  • Offer an employee assistance program that includes help for workers suffering from substance abuse.
  • Provide education on opioid abuse. The National Safety Council offers a free employer kit with guides, tools, handouts and more to help employers address prescription drug abuse.   
  • Cover alternatives to opioids in your group health plans. People often become addicted to opioids while trying to manage their pain. Make sure other options, such as massage and physical therapy, are available and affordable.  

Need help reviewing your drug use policy or your employee benefits coverage? Heffernan Insurance Brokers can help. Contact us to learn more.