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5 Ways Employers Can Address Opioids in the Workplace

What does it take for a problem to become a national crisis?

An estimated 115 Americans are losing their lives each day from opioid overdose (NIDA Feb 18). Additionally, $78.5 billion in economic burden as a result of prescription misuse also contributes to exacerbating the issue.

Opioid addiction is not a new problem. It’s a worsening problem.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, deaths related to illegal and prescribed opioids doubled from 2010 to 2016. The U.S. Surgeon General even made a statement days ago referencing the need for the community to carry naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid overdose temporarily.

Employers are among the many stakeholders immensely impacted from all directions. Pete Gruenberg, EVP of Operations with OneDigital says,

The opioid epidemic impacts employee productivity, workplace costs, absenteeism and disability costs, workers compensation claims, and overall medical expenses.

Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the bill to employers for opioid addiction and overdoses was 2.6 billion in healthcare costs for 2016. While pharmaceutical companies and physicians have primarily been held responsible and under fire for excessive and unnecessary distribution, opioid abuse is not a one-sided problem. The complex issue requires a multifaceted solution and accountability from all stakeholders.

Below are 5 ways employers can become part of the solution. Create a healthier and more productive workforce for your employees by considering these opportunities to help curb the dramatic rise in opioid abuse.

  1. Reduce Injury and Chronic Pain

    The cycle of abuse often starts innocently enough as a result of an injury, and more specifically, a workplace injury. Around 80% of heroin users transitioned from legally prescribed opioids. Why are so many patients in need of these drugs? According to NIH, more than 25 million Americans are diagnosed with chronic pain. Companies can help reduce the incidence of injury and onset of chronic pain by making the environment safer for employees to do their job. Even if the job function is not overly physical or risky, extensive sitting at a desk, driving, lifting, or any repetitive motion can cause chronic pain.

    Ergonomic assessments can ensure proper technique and body alignment which can protect employees from the onset of injury and pain. Some companies go a step further, requiring physical strength and agility testing to ensure employees can safely perform their job. Onsite chiropractic care, active release therapy, massage, stretch breaks, and onsite exercise facilities are a few effective ways employers are combatting injuries.

  2. Remove the Stigma Attached to Mental Health Issues

    Opioid abuse and depression are correlated. Individuals with a diagnosis for these mental health disorders including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are at a higher risk for opioid addiction. Conversely, those abusing opioids are at risk for the onset of depression. Providing care for individuals with mental health disorders is essential. Most employers offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at no cost. These programs are designed to guide employees to counseling and treatment but are often severely underutilized. The average utilization rate of EAP programs is 3%.

    Typically, employees are unaware that the programs and resources are available or are afraid to ask for help. Fear of being perceived as weak or incapable at work or lack of trust between employees and employers are just a couple examples of barriers to utilizing an EAP. Employers can help by creating a culture that encourages employees to ask for help by ensuring the following steps are taken:

    • Provide communication, education, and awareness about risk factors, treatment options, and how to get help for themselves or family members.
    • Talk about stress, anxiety, and depression openly and encourage employees to get help.
    • Train managers to look for warning signs.
    One California-based company recognized the growing prevalence of mental health issues within their employee population and now offers a licensed mental health provider onsite.

  4. Improve Access to Treatment

    When preventive measures are not enough, employers can improve access to treatment through their health plan as well as counseling and support for family members. Make sure that overdose reversal drugs are covered by the health plan, and partner with community groups that can provide additional resources.

  5. Collaborate with all Stakeholders

    Work with medical insurance carriers, EAPs, pharmacy benefit managers and national and local programs to attack opioid abuse from all angles. While providers and insurance carriers are doing their part to limit access to opioids, these restrictions leave many patients in need of an alternative solution for pain management or treatment for addiction.

    • Work with your vendors to educate employees on resources available.
    • Determine limitations in coverage of opioid prescriptions and access to treatment.
    • Request evaluation of medical and prescription plan data to identify possible overuse issues and mental health prevalence.
  6. Review Work Policies

    Consider drug testing, and instead of implementing a “zero tolerance” policy, offer treatment instead. Many companies have policies in place related to mental health and wellbeing stating their commitment to continuously striving, as far as is reasonably practicable, to promote mental health throughout the organization by establishing and maintaining processes that enhance mental health and wellbeing.

The impact of the opioid crisis is widespread with devastating implications touching all industries and people. Being that it is such a complex problem, it’s clear the solution will have to be multifaceted with any and all resources harnessed to contribute to a solution. For more information about how your organization can directly and positively affect the crisis on both a local and national scale reach out to your OneDigital representative today. By making organizational changes including implementing practical and effective benefits strategies to your plan design, your organization can become part of the solution.