The Opioid Crisis and the Workplace
By Dr. Deborah Happ
Asurvey recently released by the National Safety Council reveals that more than 70% of workplaces are feeling the negative effects of the opioid-abuse epidemic. Nearly 40% of employers said employees are missing work due to abuse of painkillers, with roughly the same percent reporting employee abuse of the drugs on the job.
However, only a small percentage of those with opioid or other substance use disorders ask for help or receive it. And that’s costing employers around $10 billion annually from absenteeism, according the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
Here are four ways you can address substance addiction in your workplace:
• Create a non-stigmatizing workplace. One way to influence more people to seek help is to convince them that getting treatment is the smartest thing to do. By talking about addiction like any other disease, you silence the stigma and allow people to realize it’s all right to ask for help.
Finally, it’s important to remember that employees struggling with opioid misuse or substance addiction are not weak or morally corrupt. Drug addiction is a disease and needs to be treated and talked about like any other disease — with compassion and quality care.”
• Equip staff to recognize the signs of addiction. It’s important that management and staff be trained on the early signs of opioid and substance addiction — irritability, poor concentration, and declining performance — so they can intervene before the situation deteriorates. Train managers to address performance issues, because that often opens up the dialog to talk about sensitive matters.
• Offer support to employees and family members. Just as you would with an employee who has a medical condition, such as cancer or heart disease, offer non-judgmental support to employees with a substance-use disorder. Remember, employees who have family members struggling with substance addiction suffer at work too. Those who are affected by a loved one’s addiction can have increased absenteeism, lack of focus, and health problems related to stress. If you don’t already have one, consider providing a confidential employee-assistance program (EAP) for your employees.
• Help employees access treatment. Ensure that your employees have access to quality treatment for substance addiction. Consult with your health-plan provider about a comprehensive plan that covers inpatient and outpatient services. Employees with opioid addiction can often benefit from medication-assisted treatment, which reduces the cravings for opioids and allows employees to work while in treatment.
Finally, it’s important to remember that employees struggling with opioid misuse or substance addiction are not weak or morally corrupt. Drug addiction is a disease and needs to be treated and talked about like any other disease — with compassion and quality care. Opioid misuse impacts much more than workplace performance: overdoses killed more than 64,000 Americans in 2016, up 21% over 2015.
That’s why creating a safe work environment is key. There’s nothing more important than sending a message to your employees that you care about their health and well-being. v
Dr. Deborah Happ is a senior vice president for New Directions Behavioral Health in Kansas City.