opioids in the workplace

Opioids in the Workplace: Using Employee Benefits to Fight a National Crisis

Last year America’s troubling relationship with opioids became a full-blown crisis. In late October 2017, President Trump declared widespread opioid abuse a public health emergency. And this declaration seems more than justified. Opioid overdoses now kill over 140 Americans every day, according to the DEA.

Similarly, almost 50,000 Americans died in 2016 as a result of an opioid-related overdose. Opioids are affecting a large chunk of the population on a consistent basis. As a business leader, it’s important to not only understand what this opioid epidemic is, but also how opioids in the workplace can affect your organization. Of course, you also need to know what you can do to reverse its effects.


What is the Opioid Epidemic?

Opioids, according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, are prescription and illicit drugs that reduce pain by switching off pain receptors in the brain and body. Opioid pain relievers are safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor.

But regular opioid use, even when prescribed, can be highly addictive and easily misused. And, per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), they are the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States. Because opioids are so addictive, in general, prescription opioid use often leads to eventual illicit opioid use.


What About the Business?

What’s the number one input for almost every business? Employees. Any employee using opioids, whether prescribed or illicit, is likely in poor health. When your employees are unhealthy, it’s nearly impossible for them to maximize their productivity.

Last year, a National Safety Council survey found that 29 percent of employers reported impaired job performance due to prescription-painkiller use. Similarly, a whopping 70 percent said their workforce had been affected in some way. Additionally, in a separate report, almost two-thirds of those misusing pain-relievers said they’re currently employed.

So, whether you know it or not, it’s likely opioids are affecting your employees. Consequently, these opioids are also affecting your business. The Council of Economic Advisers reported the opioid epidemic cost the U.S. economy $504 billion in 2015 alone. This number is equivalent to 2.8 percent of the country’s total gross domestic product for that year.

change stacks

It’s simple to understand how this crisis has had such a striking impact on organizations across the country. Employee benefits platform, Castlight Health, estimates opioid abusers cost employers an extra $8,600 a year in healthcare expenses. These employees are nearly twice as expensive as their clean colleagues.

Similarly, Business Journal has reported the severity to which opioids can affect your staff. Opioids are highly addictive, and the dependency they create often leads to drowsiness, anxiety, and depression.

As a result, employees may struggle to maintain regular attendance or achieve work goals. These drugs interfere with an individual’s ability to perform at their usual level. Additionally, those abusing opioids may pose a safety hazard to themselves and others.


How Can Employee Benefits Help?

As an organization, there may be moments when it feels like there’s nothing you can do to affect this epidemic positively. How can you help employees avoid getting hooked on opioids? How can you help employees who are already addicted?

The answer to these questions is your employee benefits plan. Your benefits policy is a crucial tool for combating issues related to opioid abuse. Here are seven employee benefits your business can use to deal with the opioid crisis.

1. Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Employee assistance programs are work-based intervention programs designed to identify and assist employees in resolving personal issues. These issues can range from marital to financial, and even mental health issues. EAPs also deal with addiction, or more specifically, opioid addiction.

Organizations typically offer EAPs as a free benefit to employees. Also, it is normal for employers to use a third-party administrator to run their EAP. Each of these properties is important because they lower the barrier to entry for employees looking to use the program.

The more employees who use the EAP, the more your organization can maximize the success of your program. For example, your staff needs to feel free to talk about difficult issues, such as opioid abuse. If your company administers your EAP, it could prevent employees from coming forward and asking for the help they require.




2. Health Insurance

Health insurance is a vital piece to help team members suffering from opioid addiction. But having the right kind of health insurance is just as essential. It’s important to select a health plan that includes mental health and addiction coverage.

There are several services your health care policy should include to help fight the prevalence of opioids. These services include but are not limited to substance abuse screening, outpatient and inpatient treatment, medication, and counseling. Each of these services will allow your staff to better deal with opioid addiction.


3. Paid Time Off (PTO)

PTO, which combines sick leave and vacation time, gives your employees greater flexibility when choosing when they take leave, and for what reasons. PTO lets those suffering from an opioid addiction take time off to enter rehab, attend meetings, and seek other forms of treatment.

wellness program

Everyone goes through periods of mental, emotional, and physical trauma. Still, it’s only that individual who knows what is happening to them. With PTO, your staff can take time off when they need it, without having to give advanced notice to their employees, as they would with vacation time.


4. Flexibility

Flexible work, within a position, or organization as a whole, allows employees to choose when, where, or the number of hours they work. Similar to PTO, flexible work options let your staff work around any needs they have, regarding their opioid addiction. Another method to increase flexibility would be to alter an individual’s role.

Collaborate with an employee to alter their respective role within the organization, when necessary. If a team member feels their work is affecting their battle with opioid addiction, a change in role could be imperative.


5. Transparency

A culture of transparency is vital for detecting, and battling the opioid crisis, within your organization. As mentioned in the EAP section, your staff has to be comfortable disclosing they are dealing with opioid addiction. When your company fosters a culture of transparency, employees feel more comfortable confronting their struggles openly.


6. Education and Training

Another essential benefit your business can use to fight the opioid epidemic, is through employee training. Teach your employees about the dangers of misusing or abusing opioids. The more knowledge your staff has about the subject, the better able they will be at avoiding opioid abuse.


Similarly, train your leadership team how to identify warning signs of opioid abuse. Management also has to be prepared for what to do if they suspect an employee of misusing opioids. Your managers also have to be trained on how to invite and facilitate a discussion about opioids with their subordinates.


The Wrap

The opioid crisis is more than a healthcare or government issue. It’s a subject that can affect any person and any business. Use your employee benefits plan to ensure team members don’t become the next victim of this country-wide opioid scourge.