According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are over 42,000 opioid-related deaths in the United States each year.
100 Americans die from a prescription opioid overdose each day.
In other words, we have a public health emergency on our hands.
In addition to the skyrocketing opioid-related deaths, there are countless Americans who are still abusing prescription medications.
Employers like you are challenged to figure out how to best address the crisis with employees. Not only is it impacting the livelihood of your employees and their families, but it’s also contributing to the rising costs of your group health insurance plan.
In this article we give you strategies that you can implement today to begin addressing the opioid crisis in your workplace.
Before we dive deep into the tactics, let’s step back to the basics.
What are Opioids?
Opioids, in its most basic term, is a “class of drugs used to reduce pain.” (CDC) However, not all opioids are the same. There’s a wide range of legal and illegal drugs classified as opioids.
For example, Vicodin, a legal painkiller commonly prescribed to patients, is an opioid. By comparison, Heroin, an illegally manufactured drug that has no medical use, is also an opioid.
Both drugs are killing thousands each year.
What’s the difference between Opioids and Opiates?
Opioids are virtually identical to opiates, but they are made synthetically - not from the opium plant. The term “opioids” includes opiates and these synthetic equivalents, like fentanyl and hydrocodone.
Opiates are derived from the opium plant (a kind of poppy). The term includes opium and its offshoots, like codeine and morphine.
What are common types of Opioids?
Many drugs are considered opioids. Here’s a few commonly used abused opioids, with their brand names listed for recognition.
These include prescription medications and illegal offshoots:
Employers have their hands full when it comes to dealing with Opioid abuse, and we can’t expect this national epidemic to go away anytime soon.
Estimates are showing that the Opioid abuse crisis is costing the US economy over $95 billion each year, with employers are paying $18 billion of that themselves.
And what’s unfortunate about this statistic is, this number is only expected to rise.
Employers need to do everything possible to combat the impact opioids have in the workplace.
So what exactly can your company do to combat the Opioid crisis?
Understand the impact
Educate your employees
Provide Employee Assistance Programs
Understand the Impact:
Employers like you are working to curb the misuse of prescription opioids. With more employees falling victim to addiction, companies are seeing lower productivity, higher health care costs and fewer job applicants.
When so much of the workforce is at risk of opioid abuse, that can put a strain on benefit programs - especially the costs of your group health insurance. Overprescribing creates ample room for abuse, which can result in your company paying more for their drug plan than they need to be.
It can be difficult to identify illegitimate use, especially with prescribed medications. Your company may need to try more unique approaches to curb opioid abuse. Address the problem with employees directly can be a good place to start.
Educate Your Employees:
Opioid abuse is not happening in a vacuum. Even if your employees are not using opioids, their lives may be affected by loved ones who are. This can indirectly affect their job performance contribute to the overall crisis.
You should do your best to provide your employees with educational materials to help them understand and take action against the opioid crisis.
Lasting reform can only happen if individuals take charge of their situation.
Educating your employees is the first step.
Here’s a few suggestions when developing your employee communications strategy around Opioid Misuse:
Opioid Misuse Employee Communications Strategy:
Explain the Risks: Reminding people about addiction’s tragic side effects could help motivate them to abstain from or seek treatment. Directly facing the consequences of your actions can be powerful, especially when paired with other resources.
Try putting together posters or sending information directly to employees that calls attention to the dangers of opioid misuse.
Encourage Your Employees to Speak With a Doctor: Sometimes employees don’t think to speak to their doctors about opioid abuse. This could be because employees are worried about losing their prescriptions, or perhaps they don’t know how their doctor could help.
Regardless, a doctor is more qualified than your company’s HR department to help with medical issues stemming from opioids.
Educate your employees on the importance of speaking openly with their doctors. If they’re worried about losing a prescription, explain that there are other effective ways to treat chronic pain. Most importantly, reassure employees that their doctors are there to help, not get them in trouble for misusing medication.
Promote Your EAP:
Employee assistance programs (EAPs) can be extremely beneficial for your workforce. Traditionally, EAPs help with personal issues, like smoking cessation or stress management.
However, they can also help with opioid usage.
LIke any other EAP, a program geared specifically toward opioids can help employees deal with this debilitating addiction and put energy back into their job.
Introduce More Benefits Options For Better Results
Employee communication strategies and EAP’s can be great for encouraging employees to get help for their addictions. Integrating these methods with other group health insurance options can create a more comprehensive opioid combat strategy.
Here’s some additional benefits you can offer to bolster your efforts:
Mental Health Services: Many health plans include access to some mental health services, but there may be more you can offer. Services like behavioral treatment, mental health inpatient services and substance abuse programs can strengthen your health plan and add greater value for employees. Check with us at O’Neill Insurance about tailoring your health plan to incorporate these meaningful services.
Wellness Programs: Sometimes employees need an extra push to get started living a healthier lifestyle. Wellness programs could help do just that. Examples include subsidizing gym memberships, weight-loss programs with prizes for hitting milestones, coupons for local health food stores, free health screenings and discounted personal training. Opioid addiction can take sufferers down a dark path. These wellness programs - and their perks - can help encourage healthy behaviors and provide guidance for those in need. Paired with other treatment programs, wellness programs can help ensure those coping with addiction have a healthy mind and body.
Pain Management Classes: There’s a number of pain management classes available for employees. Some are specifically created to combat the overreliance on prescription painkillers. These classes help educate opioid sufferers about sustainable pain management. Typically, programs integrate with multiple health professionals, like doctors, pharmacists, nurses and therapists. The goal is to teach patients about their risk of addiction if they are taking high doses of opioids and to inform them about alternative pain management techniques.
It all comes down to this...
Opioid abuse kills over 90 people each day and costs companies like yours around $18 billion in lost productivity, absenteeism and other expenses paid dealing with addicted employees, according to the Financial Times.
Ironically, since the majority of Americans are covered by employer-sponsored health plans, employers are paying for the same drugs that are ravaging their businesses and their employees.
Take an active role in curbing opioid abuse in the workplace. Companies that don’t are at risk of lawsuits and a litany of HR headaches.
By understanding the scope of the epidemic, acknowledging the risks your workforce faces and re-evaluating internal policies, your company can more effectively manage employees struggling with opioid addiction.
Contact us at O’Neill Insurance if you have any questions about where your company can begin on your journey to a safe and productive work environment. Together we can help improve the health of your company, your employees and your bottom line.
This article was adapted from Zywave’s Addressing Opioids in the Workplace Toolkit. This is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice.