How Employers Should Address Opioid Use Within the Workplace

Employee drug use is an ongoing issue for many companies. This problem has escalated in recent years largely due to the widespread opioid use that’s sweeping the U.S. It’s more prevalent than you might think and no workplace is immune. As a result, employers need to address opioid use head on.


A Growing Concern

Prior to the 21st century, opioid addiction was generally considered as out of sight and out of mind for most employers. It had a limited impact and wasn’t a major issue on the macro level. Things have changed in recent years, with many employers now viewing opioid use as a bigger problem than illegal drugs.

It transcends the common stereotypes that most people have of addicts and junkies and can affect almost anyone. Even someone who’s never touched a drug in their life can suffer an injury or undergo a medical procedure where they’re prescribed an opioid such as morphine, codeine or oxycodone to manage the pain. Within a short period of time, they’re addicted.


Some Alarming Statistics

At this point, opioid use is considered an epidemic. A 2015 study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse found, “One in three Americans took prescription opioid painkillers that year.” A separate study from the National Safety Council stated, “In 2010, more people died from overdose of opioid painkillers than died from heroin and cocaine combined.”

It’s an incredibly serious problem. The White House has even considered declaring a national emergency on opioids. When opioids pervade your workplace, it can wreak havoc. The immediate dangers include risk of injury or even death, especially in more hazardous occupations like construction or machining. Additionally, it can lead to increased absenteeism, reduced performance and more.


What Can You Do?

This is definitely an issue to tackle right away. It starts by adjusting your workplace drug policy to account for opioids, such as prescription painkillers. For instance, you might explicitly state that employees are prohibited from taking any opioids that aren’t prescribed by a physician. You should also mandate that any employees who are prescribed this type of medication must consult their doctor to determine if it will interfere with their performance or could create a safety issue.

It’s also smart to implement opioid drug testing for new hires and periodically for staff. Although many employers already test for other illegal substances such as marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine, they don’t necessarily target opioids. This can serve as an effective deterrent and help you spot issues before they get out of control.

A final option is to offer your employees insurer-covered alternative pain management therapies. Scientists are finding that there are several other ways to treat pain that don’t involve traditional medication. Some examples include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic manipulation
  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Hypnosis


Although these may not always be viable for more severe cases, it’s definitely something to look into.

There’s no denying that America is facing an opioid epidemic. Its tentacles are far-reaching and could easily impact your workplace. Fortunately, there are several ways to address this issue and ensure that it doesn’t adversely affect your company.


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