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Can Employers Help Fight The Opioid Epidemic?



Can Employers Help Fight The Opioid Epidemic?

Opioids in the American workplace are a growing concern in the U.S. – two out of every three human resource professionals say their workplace has been affected by prescription drug abuse or will be impacted by prescription drug abuse. But in order to fight against opioids, we need to fully understand them first. To understand opioids we should go over exactly what classifies as. There are four different main types of opioids: natural, as in codeine, semi-synthetic, as in hydrocodone, fully-synthetic, as in tramadol, and illegal, as in heroin. Euphoria-inducing properties can offer a respite from the physical and/or mental pain they are dealing with. In 2017, the CDC announced that opioid and prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic levels – when did this crisis begin?

In 2010, one out of every five patients with a pain diagnosis received an opioid prescription. But from 2012-2016, opioid prescription rates for 20%, but the damage was already done. From 2016-2017, about 12 million Americans misused prescription pain medicine; the largest risk factor for heroin and other illegal drug use.  A gateway to addiction and illegal drugs has been opened recently. Heroin overdoses from 1999 until 2017 have risen by seven times, and the deadly effects of opioid misuse have overall risen by 450%. In the 1990s opioids were increasingly prescribed for general or chronic pain treatment. Pharmaceutical companies assured doctors during this time that prescription opioids were safe. Direct-to-customers advertising of pharmaceutical drugs was deregulated. Consequently, the risk of addiction and misuse were not widely understood and many went untreated.

In the U.S., more than half of employees believe prescription abuse is a worse crisis than illegal drug use. On average, employees miss ten and a half days of work per year, but substance abusers miss anywhere from around 15 days and up to 29 days of missed work per year. Substance abusers also have more mishaps than the average worker. Not surprisingly, 86% of employers believe opioid abuse impairs workers’ performance, while 39% think prescription drug abuse compromises safety in the workplace, and 31% of workplaces have experienced an overdose, arrest or injury relating to drug abuse. A lack of resources also fans the flames of this crisis. 76% of human resource professionals can’t recognize signs of opioid abuse, 64% of coworkers aren’t trained to help coworkers with an addiction, and 71% of employers think addiction should be treated as a health condition. One in four employers is extremely unprepared to confront prescription drug abuse. What can be done to reverse this dangerous trend?

Employers can help with this rising threat of opioids. The National Institute of Safety and Health has laid the groundwork for confronting opioid use in the American workplace. Their plan is as follows: identify areas where further education on the subject are needed, determine what, if any, risk factors are there in the workplace, detect the existence of opioid use among workers, and provide protective measures for those affected.

Employers also have the power to provide workers a path to rehabilitation. Oftentimes the fear of losing a much-needed job prevents people from seeking help, especially since the health insurance needed to pay for rehab is often associated with that job. Providing not only a path to rehab but also a path back into the workplace afterward can make a significant impact.

Find out how employers and companies are helping those who are addicted here.

Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry leading infographic design agency , based in Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH which works with companies that range from startups to Fortune 500s. Brian also runs #LinkedInLocal events nationwide, hosts the Next Action Podcast, and has been named a Google Small Business Advisor for 2016-present and joined the SXSW Advisory Board in 2019. Follow Brian Wallace on LinkedIn as well as Twitter.