Opioid pill bottle

Employer Solutions, Your Health | 3 months ago

Combating the Opioid Epidemic from an Employer's Perspective

Employer solutions to help employees fight back against opioid dependency.

By David A. Cosenza, MD, medical director, HEALTHWORKS

From overdose resulting in death to chemical dependency and economic burden, the opioid epidemic is affecting Americans in many ways. However, less frequently discussed in the media are its negative effects on workforce productivity and measures employers can take to fight the epidemic and support employees suffering from opioid dependence. 

According to the National Safety Council, employer-supported treatment can yield better sustained recovery rates than treatment initiated at the request of family members or friends. While the average worker misses 10 days per year for illness, people using heroin or abusing pain medication miss, on average, 29 days of work per year. It’s clear that employers can affect positive change, and it behooves their bottom line and the overall productivity of their workforce to do so. 

Here are some often-overlooked practices employers can adopt to help suffering employees and more effectively identify opioid-dependent job candidates who may be likely to use in a workplace setting. 

Make sure pre-employment screening services are testing for opioids

Pre-employment drug screenings are par for the course with many employers. While most of these screenings indicate they test for opioids, it’s important to look a bit further to make sure they can detect the wide range of natural and synthetic opioids in use today. Oftentimes standardized tests can detect one or two types of opioid medication, but this captures only a small percentage of substances comprising the opioid epidemic. One of the best solutions is to ask for an expanded opioid panel in addition to a standardized screening. This will ensure that all forms of opioids are detected.

Offer poison control center resources at work

Safely disposing of unused medication is one of the easiest ways to ensure opioids don’t fall into the wrong hands. Posting signage and creating programs that promote disposing of unused medication will help ensure employees are empowered to get rid of extra pills instead of keeping them around their home or jobsite, where they or others could be tempted to use them.

Create a culture of treatment, not punishment 

Addiction is a disease, not a choice. If an employee suffering from opioid dependence comes to you seeking help, it’s important to embrace their honesty and offer helpful solutions instead of punishing them. Encourage employees to seek treatment via their health coverage and help them explore options available to them. With their employer’s support, in addition to the support of friends and family, employees have the greatest chance of overcoming addiction and returning to a normal life.  

If you, or someone you know is battling with addiction, they can call Atrium Health’s behavioral health helpline at 800-418-2065 or SAMHSA’s National Helpline. Both are a free, confidential, 24/7 treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.