Combatting the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid crisis has created circumstances in the American workforce that no employer was entirely prepared for. While many employers have a no tolerance policy in place for illegal drug use, the opioid crisis has presented its own unique challenges. Today, more than 71% of employers report that they have been affected in some capacity by prescription drug abuse. Opioids are often less detectable and less prominent in our policies, but no less dangerous than non-prescription drugs. Despite the prevalence of the issue, many employers feel unequipped and unsure of how to broach the subject with employees at all, let alone those struggling with addiction.

Studies show that American employers have lost more than $25 billion a year in decreased productivity and attendance, due to employee abuse of prescription drugs. Despite best efforts, the problem only seems to grow and can be daunting for employers to address. While we want to help our employees, employers are often in the dark about how to do so and stigma takes over. Even when assistance programs are available, employees will choose not to reach out because they fear judgment from their employer or the loss of their job.

Stigma can be a difficult hurdle to overcome. Because of this, many organizations and state and local governments have begun reaching out and providing employers with resources and toolkits to combat the issue. Some, such as the State of Minnesota, provides a step-by-step plan to assist employers in creating education, promoting wellness, and offering help to their employees. These plans help outline step by step what employers can do, providing the tools and advice to help employers begin this difficult conversation.

So, what should employers do? Despite resources, facing addiction in your organizations can be overwhelming. Begin by taking these steps to encourage employee wellness and help employees prevent and overcome addiction issues.

  1. Ensure your healthcare is adequate. Ensure that your insurance provider abides by regulations put into place by the CDC. In the face of the opioid crisis, the CDC has created regulations for doctors and insurance companies to help regulate and decrease opioid prescription drug use. These stricter regulations can help to protect your employees against the possibility of addiction.
  1. Educate your employees. Educating your workforce on the dangers of opioid drug use can make all the difference. Often people do not understand the risks associated with opioid usage,  so they do not seek alternatives. Encourage your employees to understand the impact of the medications they are taking and to ask their doctor how those medications will and could affect their lives before they begin using it.
  1. Provide an EAP. Employee assistance programs are often in place to help employees struggling outside the office. Ensure that your EAP not only offers opioid addiction assistance but that employees feel comfortable and safe seeking the help that they need. A good employee assistance program will support the employee throughout the recovery process and check in afterwards with conversations, drug tests, and anything else the employee needs to be successful in their recovery.
  1. Provide adequate drug screening. Requiring pre-employment and/or periodic drug tests of your employees can act as a deterrent and may also prompt those struggling to seek assistance. When faced with requesting help or losing their job due to failure of a drug screening, employees may opt for the former.
  1. Educate your management team. Being prepared for issues brought up by addiction is never easy but ensuring your management team is ready for an opioid addiction emergency can make the difference between life and death. Be prepared, have policy in place to handle crises and addiction issues, and ensure your management team feels equipped to handle anything that comes up from an employee in crisis to an employee asking for assistance with addictions counseling.

The opioid epidemic seems like an overwhelming battle to face, but if employers are educated and equipped with the tools to serve their employees, they can come out all the better. In a world where prescription drug use only seems to be growing, knowing how to combat addiction is essential. Provide your employees, your management team and your organization with the tools to successfully navigate this. Educate, prepare and empower. Your preparation will ultimately lead to a happier, healthier and more productive workforce and work environment.

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