The rate of deaths from drug overdoses in the United States between 2000 and 2016 has increased 137 percent, including a 200 percent increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioid pain relievers and heroin, according to a Medicare and Medicaid Research Review report.
While opioid prescriptions have increased dramatically since 1999, the amount of pain reported by Americans has remained the same. Now, almost 2 million people in America have a prescription opioid use disorder, contributing to increased heroin use and the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.
Impact in the Workplace
Employees who abuse prescription drugs are two to five times more likely to take unexcused absences, be late for work, be injured or violent at work, file workers' compensation claims, quit or be fired within one year of employment, according to the National Safety Council.
Furthermore, 70 percent of the 14.8 million Americans who abuse drugs are employed. When an employee abuses drugs, employers and payers take on the risk of workplace injuries, compromised productivity due to absenteeism and presenteeism and liability.
Drug abuse costs U.S. business owners more than $140 billion dollars every year, which includes turnover rates for employees who abuse drugs. The drugs at the root of this issue include cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, methamphetamine and prescription drugs.
Time to Step Up
For many employers, the time has come to consider all available options for resolving the issue of drug abuse in the workplace. As the opioid crisis continues to penetrate across all racial and socioeconomic strata, hard-working middle-class America has become devastated. Today, it’s become an imperative to understand the implications and impact of this “epidemic” on America’s workforce, gain a more comprehensive understanding of how deeply this issue cuts and take action.
The designation of the opioid crisis as a public health emergency in October 2017 took an important step toward solving a problem that impacts people of all ages and ethnic groups throughout the country. While it is expected that this declaration will offer states and federal agencies more resources and power, what really is required is greater access to toxicology labs and drug testing.
Increased Access to Testing
Unfortunately, the U.S. system does not have the necessary capacity to meet the clinical demand for testing. It is incumbent upon our nation’s insurance companies and health plans to increase their contracting and reimbursement with an expanded network of labs that can meet the needs of medical providers who are ordering drug tests. With greater access to testing, both providers and patients will be better positioned to curb this deadly epidemic.
The upside of this equation is that employees more likely will undergo treatment when it is fostered by an employer, and individuals in recovery go on to become better workers — using less healthcare, taking less unscheduled leave and involving slightly less turnover than their non-abusing colleagues. In fact, each employee who recovers from a substance abuse disorder saves a company more than $3,200 a year.
About the author: Scott Howell, M.D., MPH &TM, CPE, is chief medical officer for Tenet Diagnostics, which offers an extensive range of testing services, including specialized diagnosis, screening and evaluation for a host of conditions and diseases related to orthopedics, pain management, primary care and oncology.