(Written by Aimee Hoffmann, FEI EAP Counselor)

Prescription painkillers and heroin make local and national news on a regular basis. While some may believe this will never happen to someone they know, it is impacting individuals in record numbers. Unfortunately, the statistics continue to show we are far from conquering this epidemic.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more Americans die every year from drug overdoses than they do in motor vehicle accidents. The rate of opioid overdoses has tripled since 2000, accounting for 28,648 deaths in 2014. Opioids—primarily prescription pain killers and heroin—are the main drugs associated with overdose deaths. Four in five new heroin users started out using prescription painkillers. As a consequence, heroin-related deaths have nearly quadrupled from 2000-2014.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) reported that of the 21.5 million Americans 12 or older who had a substance use disorder in 2014, 1.9 million involved prescription pain relievers and 586,000 involved heroin. ASAM also reported adolescents (age 12-17) were using opiates at an alarming rate, with 467,000 reporting nonmedical use of pain relievers and 168,000 addicted to prescription opiates.

While we may think we will never be affected by this epidemic, the numbers indicate it is highly likely we will be affected either directly or indirectly—even in the workplace. Opiate use does not discriminate, and the number of people that use are increasing for men, women, most age groups and all income levels. American Council for Drug Education (ACDE) reports 70 percent of substance abusers hold jobs and 75 percent have used in the last year. Employees struggling with addiction are more likely to have an accident, lower productivity, raise insurance costs and reduce profits. Workers may face unique risks as injuries sustained at work are increasingly treated with prescription opiates. Employees may want to discuss other options with their doctors, especially if their position involves driving or operating machinery.

Protect yourself, your loved ones and your workforce from prescription painkiller abuse and overdose death. Education, treatment and law enforcement are all needed. Most states have developed initiatives to combat the problem, which are often a good place to find education and treatment resources. Do you know what your state is doing?