Read warning labels about opioids and avoid taking them before driving.

Sincerely Stefanie: The Opioid Dilemma

April 5, 2019
Although three-quarters of U.S. employers have experienced some effects from the opioid crisis, most are not prepared. It’s time to step up.

Every morning I turn on my computer and begin to catch up on what happened while I was asleep. It’s inevitable that one of the first things I see is about opioids.       

Whether it’s a story about the effects of the crisis or a post about a friend or relative that succumbed to addiction, there is way to avoid reading something about substance abuse.

When I came across the latest survey released by the National Safety Council (NSC), I was perplexed as to why employers still are not taking steps to address opioids in the workplace. 

The NSC reports that opioids have affected 75% of U.S. employers, yet a mere 17% feel like they are prepared to deal with the issue. With constant media attention and a widespread focus on substance abuse education, why are companies still woefully unprepared?

The crisis is hitting every facet of the workplace and every industry. The survey results show 38% of employers experienced absenteeism or impaired worker performance because of opioid use. In addition, 31% reported an overdose, arrest, a near miss, or an injury directly tied to it. 

Nick Smith, NSC’s interim president and CEO, communicated the importance of preparedness in a recent statement.

“The opioid crisis is truly encompassing nearly every aspect of American lives. [The] survey confirms that the No. 1 cause of preventable death is not just taking its toll on our home lives, but companies across the country are also grappling with the impact of this epidemic,” he said. “If there is a silver lining, it’s that we have an opportunity to gain the attention and resources of American businesses to combat this societal scourge.”

If the survey results truly are a representation of how unprepared employers are when it comes to substance abuse, the opioid epidemic isn’t going to end. In fact, it could only get worse based on the following NSC findings:
•    Employers are more concerned about hiring qualified workers, employee benefits and worker compensation costs than they are about employee use of legal prescription opioids or illicit use/sale of opioids. 
•    Eighty-six percent of employers believe taking opioids even as prescribed can impair job performance,       yet only 60% have policies in place requiring employees to notify their employer when they are using a prescription opioid.
•    Only half of employers are “very confident” that they have the appropriate HR policies and resources to deal with opioid use and misuse in the workplace.
•    79% are not very confident that individual workers can spot warning signs of opioid misuse.

There are many resources and guides available to begin or enhance the employer’s journey to combat opioid and substance abuse. The NSC recommends the following five steps to a proactive approach:

1. A clear, written policy
The involvement of legal counsel in tandem with human resources and employee relations is critical to ensure the policy includes protections for risk management, injury prevention and liability.

2. Worker education
Employers should address several areas when sharing information with employees about opioid medications.

3. Supervisor training
With the changes in drug use over the past several years, it is important for managers to be current on their workplace policy for prescription drug use, understanding potential signs of impairment and the updated process and scope of drug testing.

4. An employee assistance program
It is in an employer’s best interest to identify opioid abuse and to support confidential access to treatment.

5. Drug testing
The message is clear; employers need to take a more proactive approach when it comes to combating the opioid epidemic in the workplace. 

Opioid and substance abuse can directly impact many other facets of the workplace and exacerbate other issues that would otherwise not be as concerning. Employer drug testing programs must address both nonmedical drug use and prescription drug abuse in the workplace.

The time to act is now. Not tomorrow. Not a week from now. Today.

About the Author

Stefanie Valentic

Stefanie Valentic was formerly managing editor of EHS Today, and is currently editorial director of Waste360.

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