The Opioid Crisis

Why Employers Need to Pay Attention

November 7, 2017

Opioid abuse often begins with a legitimate prescription. As a result, individuals who would never think of taking hard drugs can become addicted.

For employers, this means that employees who don’t fit the stereotype of a drug user could be struggling with a potentially fatal addiction, one that can not only threaten the well-being of the employees, but can also create on-the-job safety risks and inhibit an employee’s ability to recover and return to work.

What is the overall impact of the opioid problem?

  • $55 billion in health and social costs from prescription opioid abuse each year
  • $20 billion in emergency department and inpatient care for opioid poisonings

How likely is it that one or more of your employees could have a problem with opioid abuse?
On an average day, more than 78 Americans die from an opioid-related overdose and more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are filled in that same day. In fact, opioid abuse has become so pervasive that every employer should be aware that any employee could become affected.

A National Safety Council poll of HR officials discovered that 70 percent of employers are feeling the effects of opioid abuse in the form of absenteeism, decreased productivity, and safety incidents.

What kind of problems does Opioid abuse cause in the workplace?
Certainly, the well-being of the employee, but also the stress they cause others including: harm to family relationships, financial stability, and even death. Increased workers’ compensation costs are also a factor.

What kind of industries have more abuse issues? According to research done by the National Safety Council, the construction and mining industries experience higher than average opioid disorder levels, while agriculture, finance, insurance, and real estate were among the lowest.

What are the warning signs employers should look for? A number of outward warning signs of possible addiction include personality shifts, missed deadlines, inconsistent eye/motor coordination, and incoherence. These workers would also be prone to be part of safety violations or incidents.

But detecting patterns is also important. A worker who is routinely absent every Monday or Friday or who always calls in sick on the same day of the week might be displaying signs of potential substance abuse.

What can be done to address this problem?
First of all, an employer can partner with their insurance provider, medical/PBM, and EAP. They can also re-evaluate or establish a drug policy and testing for prescription drugs. They can invest in management and employee education. And they can increase and ensure confidential access to help and treatment for their employees.

The coverage of prescription medications in healthcare benefits packages continues to be an essential part of employee healthcare. But this disturbing trend of opioid over-medication and subsequent abuse is a problem that must be addressed.

Are employers currently prepared to handle the crisis?
According to results from a National Safety Council survey, 81 percent of respondents’ drug policies lacked “at least one critical element of an effective drug-free workplace program.” That’s why training is essential from entry level to the top.

Is the government doing anything to help?
The Department of Labor Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs recently took steps to begin monitoring federal employees for opioid use. Part of that program requires prescribing physicians to consider alternative treatment options and sufficiently monitor the patient’s opioid use. In March 2017, President Donald Trump formed a commission designed to combat the crisis.

The prescription opioid epidemic is having a profound impact on the workplace. Employers who are committed to safe and healthy work environments need to address the epidemic. They can make this happen with strong employee policies, alliances with health benefits and workers’ compensation plan providers, education, expanded drug-free workplace testing, and non-threatening access to treatment programs.

If you have specific questions about handling the opioid crisis or if you’d like more information about how MMA risk management or claims services can help, contact your local Marsh & McLennan representative.