Workplaces are not immune to the opioid epidemic in the U.S., which means employers are grappling with ways to manage and react to factors that affect their workforce and its health and productivity. In 2016 alone, the CDC says there were a record-setting 42,000+ drug overdose deaths involving an opioid - a death rate 5 times higher than it was in 1999. The economic impact on communities is stunning. Costs stemming from opioid addiction that are associated with emergency response, health care and social services are soaring. Employers in the U.S. are having trouble filling jobs in part because many applicants can’t pass the pre-employment drug test.

Experts say employers must be aware of the high prevalence of opioid use in the workplace – and take a proactive role in dealing with the problem.

Many people begin taking opioids to control pain for a legitimate injury or after surgery, and then become addicted to them. They progress to taking harder hitting drugs to feel “normal,” and that usage can go from home to workplace. It can also veer into overdose territory and cause death.

Experts recommend that companies:

  • Look at the pharmacy-spend portion of medical insurance claims to determine the number of opioid prescriptions being used.
  • Craft a substance-abuse policy that makes sense for them (punitive? Or recovery-friendly)
  • Let employees know that they can come forward and seek assistance
  • Take steps to reduce the number of on-the-job injuries that lead to painkiller usage – such as musculoskeletal injuries
  • Make sure their medical insurance includes non-pharmaceutical options for treating pain, such as chiropractic care and acupuncture