Opioid Addiction Hits U.S. Employers

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Opioid Addiction Hits U.S. Employers

By The Fix staff 04/24/17

"Employer supported and monitored treatment yields better sustained recovery rates than treatment initiated at the request or friends or family.”

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A man sitting and looking depressed with a box of belongings and a cup of coffee.

The opioid epidemic is having vast effects on American employment, with opioid abuse costing employers $12 billion annually and up to 12 percent of the American workforce under the influence of drugs while on the job.

The data, reported by Bloomberg News, highlights the need for high-quality treatment. In addition to saving lives, opioid treatment makes good economic sense by helping more people get into recovery. This in turn can reduce the cost to employers by lowering health insurance premiums and reducing employee turnover.

While many employers drug test in the hiring process, testing for opioids is complicated because many screenings don’t test for legal prescription drugs like oxycodone or fentanyl.

Across the country 4.3 million people have admitted to using prescription painkillers illegally. In some industries like construction, trucking and manufacturing the rates of drug abuse are even higher.

The National Safety Council recently released a report about how the opioid crisis and prescription drug abuse is impacting employers.

The report found that more than 70 percent of employers have been impacted by prescription drugs. The most common complaints were about missed work and the use of pain pills at work. Employers also reported decreased job performance, negative impact on employee morale, injury at work and even selling pills in the workplace. Ten percent of employers said they had dealt with an overdose at work.

“Employers must understand that the most dangerously misused drug today may be sitting in employees' medicine cabinets," NSC President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman said in a news release. "Even when they are taken as prescribed, prescription drugs and opioids can impair workers and create hazards on the job. We hope these findings prompt employers to take the lead on this emerging issue so that workplaces can be as safe as possible."

Although many employers feel that drug addiction is affecting their employees, fewer feel equipped to respond to the opioid crisis. In fact, less than one quarter of employers offer training on how to spot prescription drug misuse, and 81 percent of employers lack a comprehensive drug-free workplace policy.

Employers can play an important role in supporting opioid treatment and recovery. According to the NSC report, “employer supported and monitored treatment yields better sustained recovery rates than treatment initiated at the request or friends or family.” The study found that 70 percent of employers would help employees return to work following drug treatment, and 71 percent said that addiction is a disease that needs quality treatment just like any other chronic health condition.

While most employers were understanding about addiction and supportive of recovery, they were not tolerant of active addiction in the workplace. Sixty-five percent said that prescription drug misuse is a justifiable reason to fire an employee.

This shows that people who are struggling with opioid addiction must seek comprehensive treatment and detox in order to maintain their careers.

Opioid addiction can affect people in all sorts of careers. Nelson Wood, a Massachusetts dentist, was arrested for writing illegal prescriptions in order to feed his own opioid addiction. He has since gotten clean using a treatment program for professionals, and returned to dentistry. However, he does not prescribe narcotics any longer.

“If I don’t stay sober, I’m going to lose everything,” he said.

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