May 18, 2024

There’s a serious opioid epidemic happening right now in every city, state, and county in America, and some are worse than others. The history of how we got to this point comes from a multitude of factors including but not limited to deregulation of prescription advertising, pharmaceutical companies convincing healthcare providers these medications were safe and that the risk for addiction was negligible, and many more. Unfortunately little is currently being done to combat the epidemic and more efforts are needed. Doctors are prescribing about 20% fewer opioid medications, but what if there were a way for companies to help stem the tide of addiction with workplace policies?

Drug testing policies are always important to have in place to ensure any illegal drug use is dealt with properly. While prescription misuse in the workplace is becoming a serious problem, this may not show up on regular drug screening panels. When an employee has a legitimate prescription for an opioid medication it legally can’t be listed in the drug screen results because of medical privacy rights.

This is why it is so important to have a workplace drug policy that is more comprehensive than just banning the use of illegal drugs. Oftentimes people become addicted to opioid pain medications after a legitimate use scenario — they have an injury or a surgery and they are prescribed pain medication to help keep their pain at bay during their recovery, but then they find their need for that pain medication continues long after the recovery period. When the prescription runs out they may turn to the street or the internet to purchase more of the pain medication, and when that fails some may even turn to heroin.

Many of the people who find themselves in this situation want to get help, but they are scared if they come forward they might lose their jobs, regardless of protections like FMLA which don’t cover all employees. Having a policy in place that encourages people to seek help when it is needed is crucial — guarantee they will have a job to return to and that their health insurance will continue while they are in rehab. But that’s not the end. Having a policy in place that will provide support and mentoring upon return can literally be the difference between life and death. It can be easier for employees to get support if there is a way for them to compare health insurance quotes without phone calls, as many people find it difficult to talk about their health needs over the phone.

Substance abusers miss more work than the average employee, and opioid pain medication abusers miss as much as three times the work of the average employee. A quarter of workplaces are extremely unprepared to deal with opioids in the workplace, while nearly a third have already dealt with an overdose, arrest, or injury. Educating HR and management professionals on workplace drug policies as well as how to respond both to suspected drug use and requests for help obtaining rehabilitation is crucial to maintaining workplace safety.

An overwhelming majority of people believe that addiction should be treated as a medical condition, and workplace policies should reflect that if they are to work properly. Learn more about how employers can help combat the opioid epidemic from the infographic below.