Three Ways Employers Can Be Proactive About Opioids in the Workplace

Opioid abuse can be linked to absenteeism and loss of productivity in the workplace, costing U.S. employers more than $10 billion annually, according to Castlight Health’s in-depth study on employer-based medical and pharmacy claims. Not to mention, opioid abusers cost employers nearly double the amount of healthcare expenses annually compared to other employees. Employees who misuse or abuse prescription opioids are more likely to file disability claims, experience higher absenteeism rates, and increase the risk of workplace safety incidents, errors, and injury.

Prescription opioid drug use is surging, even when taken as prescribed. Employers have legitimate legal concerns about privacy, and protection of personal health information, yet companies play an important role in promoting the health and safety of their workers, and managing risk in the workplace. Helping employees with addiction issues is important, yet primary prevention is crucial to get out in front of the issue before the addiction phase. Here are 3 ways employers can be proactive about opioid use in the workplace.

  1. Partner with insurance, medical and pharmacy benefit and EAP providers. Ask your providers what programs they have in place to prevent dependency, addiction, and to identify chronic use. Analyze all data available from the health plan regarding prescription drug utilization. Look at the current prescription plan to consider closed formularies where opioid prescriptions require prior authorization and approval. Employers often underutilize their EAP – this valuable benefit may offer supervisor and manager training, and provide support programs for employees and their families. EAP services are confidential and protected by HIPAA privacy regulations.
  2. Educate and empower employees to seek alternative therapies for pain management. Help employees understand the appropriate use of these potentially risky prescription medications, and that they have a choice to talk to their doctor about alternative therapies such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Non-drug treatments for chronic pain provide safer options for low-back pain, nerve pain, fibromyalgia, joint pain, and migraines. The National Safety Council provides a free employer tool kit with posters, safety talks, fact sheets, and helpful information for employee education.
  3. Re-evaluate the drug-free workplace policy and drug testing programs. Having a clear, well-written policy has never been more important. If your drug-free workplace policy hasn’t been reviewed in a while, it’s time to consult with your company’s legal team to ensure that misuse and/or abuse of prescription medications, and prescription medication interference with on-the-job safety is addressed. Check out a sample policy in this proactive approach that employers can take recommended by the National Safety Council.

For information about how you can begin to take a proactive approach to addressing prescription opioid misuse and abuse in the workplace, please contact your CPI-HR benefits consultant, or call 440-542-7800.

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