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The Opioid Epidemic: How Is It Affecting Your Workplace?

31 Jan. 2018 Posted by aadams

Julie Sharp, FEI Account Manager

In 1980, Dr. Hershel Jick of the Boston University School of Medicine sent a one-paragraph letter to the editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association titled “Addiction Rare in Patients Treated with Narcotics.”

This letter, meant only to convey Dr. Jick’s observation of patients treated in a controlled hospital environment, became known as “Porter and Jick,” and was widely referenced at Continuing Medical Education events and in pharmaceutical presentations to justify the
use of narcotic pain medication for a variety of conditions including chronic pain resulting
from injuries.

Many point to this seemingly innocuous happening as the catalyst for the opioid epidemic currently sweeping the nation with devastating impacts to families, communities and
the workplace.

The National Safety Council (NSC) reports substance abuse costs the U.S. economy more than $400 billion a year. Seventy-five percent of people struggling with substance issues are employed. They miss 50 percent more work days than peers who do not struggle with substance abuse, leading to significant losses in productivity. Substance abuse also affects the cost of benefits and workers compensation as well as the ability to find qualified workers.

The NSC goes on to estimate that “the annual cost of untreated substance use disorder ranges from $2,600 per employee in agriculture to more than $13,000 per employee in information and communications.” To get an idea of how this epidemic may have impacted your organization, check out the substance use cost calculator. The NSC also offers a free drug prescription kit for employers where you can find many additional helpful resources.

In Wisconsin, the government’s Dose of Reality program reports that four out of five employers have dealt with issues of abuse, and the cost to treat workplace injury with narcotic painkillers is nine times higher than it would be otherwise.

Clearly, this is a critical issue and it is likely your organization has felt the impact of the crisis. Consider asking a few questions with respect to effectively addressing opioid challenges in
your workplace:

Drug and Alcohol Policy. If your drug and alcohol policy has been sitting in a forgotten folder, it’s time to dust it off and make updates reflecting the cultural changes of the last five
years. Illegal drugs have always been prohibited, but what about narcotics that may be
legally prescribed?

Drug Testing. In the same way, many drug testing panels don’t test for the substances employees may be misusing or abusing. How do you maintain a balance between conducting meaningful testing and avoiding Americans with Disabilities Act violations or other potential liability issues?

Manager Education. Managers and supervisors are an organization’s front-line eyes and ears, but are they equipped to recognize warning signs of troubled employees? Or know how to appropriately intervene? Ensure they’re aware of how resources like an employee assistance program (EAP) can partner with them to foster the well-being of every team member.

Employee Assistance Program. Has your EAP program heretofore been a passive and underutilized program you hope employees can find if (or when) they need it? If so, you are overlooking one of your most powerful resources. A company-wide, intentional strategy of building awareness and utilization of EAP goes a long way towards establishing a strong foundation for organizational resilience. It can literally be a lifesaver for those struggling with substance use issues, facilitating the first step to receiving the support they desperately need.

If you’re in the market for a wellness partner that excels in supporting a healthy, productive and successful workforce, please contact me today.

Already have an EAP? Consult with your account manager regarding implementing any or all of these ideas.


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