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How Business Owners Can Address Opioid Use in the Workplace

By Eastern Insurance, Sep. 30, 2018
How Business Owners Can Address Opioid Use in the Workplace

How Business Owners Can Address Opioid Use in the Workplace

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are over 42,000 opioid-related deaths in the United States each year. That means more than 100 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day. Specifically, in Massachusetts, a study found that construction workers are six times more likely to die from opioid overdoses than all other occupations.

With this epidemic hitting communities and businesses across the country, employers must figure out how to best address this crisis with employees. It’s a sensitive topic, but it’s necessary for business owners and managers to confront it and develop a plan to address opioid use in their workplace. In this blog post, we’ll help business owners understand the opioid epidemic and provide tips on how to create a healthier and more productive workforce while reducing costs related to workers’ compensation. Please note that this blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical or legal professional. However, this information can serve as a starting point for developing a meaningful opioid strategy.

Understanding the Impact

Estimates show that the opioid epidemic costs the U.S. economy over $95 billion annually, with employers paying $18 billion of that themselves. And these figures are only expected to rise.

When so much of the workforce is at risk of opioid abuse, that can put a strain on benefit programs — especially health care costs. Overprescribing creates ample room for abuse, which can result in employers paying more for their drug plan than they need to.

It can be hard to identify illegitimate use, especially with prescribed medications. Employers may need to try more unique approaches to curb opioid abuse. Addressing the problem with employees directly can be a good place to start.

Reading the Signs of Substance Abuse

In the most basic terms, the CDC defines opioids as “a class of drugs used to reduce pain.” Common types of opioids include OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, and Codeine.

Substance abuse takes many forms, as do its signs. Knowing what to look for can help managers spot employees with addiction problems before they get worse. These are some of the common signs of drug or alcohol abuse:

  • Bloodshot or watery eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Pale and sweaty face
  • Slurred or uncommonly slow speech
  • Confrontational or profane attitude
  • Unusual stumbling or staggering
  • Uncharacterized performance problems

If you notice any of these signs on a consistent basis, follow these steps:

  1. Document your observations, including times and dates.
  2. Take special note of any safety violations or immediate risks due to what you observed.
  3. Speak with HR and let them handle any investigation.
  4. Do not confront the individual under any circumstance. Allow your HR department to determine if action is necessary.

How Opioid Use Affects Workers’ Compensation

With the increase in opioid use, workers compensation claims are skyrocketing. A recent John Hopkins study determined that employees who were prescribed just one opioid had total claims costs that were four to eight times greater than employees with similar claims who didn’t take opioids. Ultimately, employees who took opioid prescriptions had increased emergency room visits for addiction treatment, related illness, overdose, and even death.

The opioid epidemic is becoming even more important in workers’ compensation settings since prolonged opioid use has been associated with poorer outcomes, longer periods of disability and higher medical costs for injured workers.

How to Help Employees

It can be hard to identify illegitimate use, especially with prescribed medications. Employers may need to try more unique approaches to curb opioid abuse. Even if employees themselves are not using opioids, their lives may be affected by loved ones who are. This can indirectly affect their job performance and contribute to the overall crisis.

Here are a few suggestions for developing an employee education and communication program at your company around opioid abuse:

  • Explain the risks — Reminding people about addiction’s tragic side effects could help motivate them to abstain or seek treatment. Try putting up posters or sending information directly to employees that calls attention to the dangers of opioid misuse.

  • Encourage employees to speak with a doctor — A doctor is more qualified than your organization’s HR department to help with medical issues stemming from opioids. Educate employees on the importance of speaking openly with their doctors. If they are worried about losing a prescription, explain that there are other effective ways to treat chronic pain. Most importantly, reassure employees that their doctors are there to help, not get them in trouble for misusing medication.

  • Promote your EAP — Because substance abuse and mental health issues can impact the workplace so significantly, many companies choose to offer EAPs, or Employee Assistance Programs. An EAP supplies professionals who provide counseling to employees and their families in a safe and private atmosphere. Generally, all the information disclosed will remain confidential, and no disclosure to employers will be made without written permission. The EAP makes a limited number of counseling sessions available to employees at no cost. Should an employee and his or her counselor decide that a referral to an outside provider is necessary, those costs will then be the employee’s responsibility.

Employers must take an active role in curbing opioid abuse in the workplace. Companies that do not are risking lawsuits and a litany of HR headaches. By understanding the scope of the epidemic, acknowledging the risks your workforce faces and re-evaluating internal policies, your organization can more effectively manage employees struggling with opioid addiction.

Speak with Eastern Insurance if you have any questions about where to begin on your journey to a safe and productive work environment. Together, we can help improve the health of your business, your employees and your bottom line.

To contact a member of our team, or to request a workers’ compensation consultation online, please visit our website or call us at (800) 333-7234 (Option 3).

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