The new face of substance abuse

Every day, 54 people die from prescription drug overdoses, according to the National Safety Council,

Every day, 54 people die from prescription drug overdoses, according to the National Safety Council.

When talk turns to substance abuse, we tend to think of shady deals that transpire between equally shady characters in dark alleys. It’s time to toss that narrative out the window. Today’s substance abuse epidemic is driven by a familiar cast of characters assuming historically unfamiliar roles.

The suppliers are friends, family members, even physicians. The drugs – Oxycontin, Vicodin, Demerol and other powerful pain medications known as opioids – are perfectly legal when taken as prescribed. And what about the down-on-their luck addicts no epidemic can survive without?

They’re increasingly being joined by mothers, fathers and others who look much like the rest of us. In fact, some of them might work for your business.

The National Safety Council (NSC) notes that 23 percent of the U.S. workforce has used prescription drugs non-medically.

So what? If employees abuse opioids, they’re only hurting themselves, right? Not necessarily.

Prescription painkiller abuse costs employers about $18 billion a year in lost productivity and medical expenses. That figure doesn’t account for the impact abuse has on workplace accidents and claim costs. When injured workers are prescribed even one opioid, their claims cost, on average, four times more, according to the NSC.

Most employers understand that substance abuse is bad for business. Many have taken preventive measures by creating policies and programs that account for alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and other street drugs. But a comprehensive approach to addressing substance abuse includes prescription drugs. The NSC offers these tips for employers who want to protect their employees and their business from opioid abuse:

  • Educate employees about the health and productivity issues related to prescription drug abuse.

    Click on the image to learn five things little known facts about opioids.

    Click on the image to learn five little-known facts about opioids.

  • Incorporate information about substance abuse in workplace wellness programs or strategies.
  • Offer health benefits that provide coverage for substance abuse disorders.
  • Expand drug testing to include prescription drugs.*
  • Publicize drug-free workplace policies, and incorporate guidelines regarding prescription drugs.
  • Provide employee assistance programs, wellness and work-life programs that include information and services related to substance abuse prevention, treatment and return-to-work issues.
  • Train managers to recognize and respond to substance abuse issues so problems can be addressed in uniform, cost-effective and business-sensitive ways.

The next chapter
Opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. It has infiltrated every facet of our lives, from the living room to the board room. What often starts as a legitimate prescription for severe pain ends in abuse and death.

Every day, 54 people die from opioid overdoses, according to the NSC. And opioids are involved in most of the country’s 47,000 annual overdose deaths.

It will take a coordinated effort among health care providers, legislators, insurance carriers and employers to reverse the trend.

For more information about your role in curbing the opioid epidemic, download the NSC’s guide, “The proactive role employers can take: Opioids in the workplace.” The guide will help you partner with your benefit providers, assess workplace policies, prioritize education efforts, and improve access to confidential help for your employees.

*Consult an attorney before you launch a drug testing program to ensure you comply with applicable laws.

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