The last decade has brought a harsh new reality to the workplace – a drastic increase in the number of employees abusing opioids and other prescriptions pain killers. Opioids, in particular are devastatingly addictive, requiring as few as five days to unwittingly change someone from a symptom-based user to an addict.
The Cost to Employers
The opioid crisis cost the U.S. economy $95 billion in 2016, and preliminary data from 2017 predict the cost will increase, according to a new analysis from Alartum, a health care research and consulting firm.
Let’s review what is included in that startling number and how it relates to opioids in the workplace.
Workers’ Compensation Costs. A 2010 report by the Workers’ Compensation Institute confirmed the majority of the country’s workers’ comp claims involved the users of pain medications, including opioids.
Loss of Productivity. Employees struggling with an addiction – or supporting a family member who is – will have a higher risk of unscheduled absences from the workplace. Additionally, they may be more prone to distraction and require more frequent breaks than their colleagues. All of which lead to a decrease in the quality and quantity of their performance… and money out of your pocket.
Loss of Customers/Clients. Even if you are not keeping tabs on the performance of your team, your customers are. No one wants to rely on a business contact who is unreliable, and rather than bring up a potentially uncomfortable subject with the company’s management, customers are more likely to simply bring their business elsewhere.
What Can a Small Business Do about Opioids?
There are two perspectives we recommend you consider:
- How to minimize risk and loss of profitability for the business
- How to support employees trying to overcome addiction and its impact to their work
Develop a drug-free workplace policy. Every business should consider a policy that lays out what is and isn’t acceptable, and what steps will be taken to protect employees and employer. A well-written policy will include prescription drugs and outline a protocol to address the reasonable suspicion of drug use. Every employee should read and sign the policy.
Hire new employees on a contingent basis. If allowed by state law, consider implementing a post-offer drug screening practice, where potential employees must pass a drug screen before their first day. Your offer letter must reflect this, and the requirement for drug testing must come with the offer of employment – not before. Many employers with these screens already in place believe their drug test panels cover a wide range of opioid drugs, but a standard 5-panel test will not test for synthetic opiates, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. You should review your goals for the drug screen with your provider to ensure that what is tested for does aligns with your concerns and expectations.
Educate your management team. Opioid prescriptions are most commonly written for the following ailments, in order: joint, neck, abdominal, and back. Any company that has a high number of injuries to these areas of the body must be particularly vigilant about the potential for opioid-related issues. Educate supervisors on the subtle signs of drug use, including:
- increase in the absenteeism
- slurred speech
- mood swings
- napping at work
Educate your employees. Educate your employees on the drug-free policies, but don’t stop there. Remind them to advocate for themselves with their doctors. The effectiveness of opioids for pain management has been called into question in the last few years. If they are being handed a prescription for opioids, are there other, non- or less-addictive alternatives they can consider?
Review your health plan design. It may be possible to limit coverage for opioids and other highly addictive substances.
Identify an Employee Assistance Program. It’s best to have resources in place, so that professionals are on hand to help employees with their own issues or those of a loved one.
De-stigmatize addiction. The last decade has shown that prescription drug abuse, in particular, is an often hidden epidemic. Many people who struggle with this type addiction are embarrassed to come forward and ask for help. But employees who are supported by their employers through a successful recover often become the company’s most loyal and productive employees.
A drug-free workplace policy is an effective first step for employers hoping to limit the impact of the opioid crisis on their workplace, but it is only the start. A thorough program will include testing, education, and support.
This article does not constitute legal advice and there are subtle variations in employment law as it pertains to this topic, depending on where your business operates. It is strongly suggested that you seek consultation or legal counsel before making decisions about policies.
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