For many, the term ‘drug addiction’ conjures images of social deviants living on the edges of society, victims of a poor upbringing, high school dropouts, or miscreants who manipulate family members, or rob and steal to support their addictions. Unfortunately, the scope of drug addiction is much broader than rough neighborhoods and street thugs. One significant facet of drug addiction is the prevalence of opioid prescription meds. According to a study that Medical Doctor Nora D. Volkow presented to the United States Senate, the number of opioid prescriptions written in the United States has increased significantly over the past 30 years. In the early 1990s, American doctors wrote roughly 75 million opioid prescriptions for pain relief; medications such as Vicodin. In 2013, doctors wrote over 200 million opioid prescriptions for pain relief. In fact, according to the study, the United States is the largest consumer of opioid medications.
How do opioids effect the workplace?
Any worker in any occupation is at risk for a work-related injury. It could be a simple slip and fall, a jammed finger, or a severe laceration or back injury. Regardless, many injuries have one thing in common; pain. To deal with pain many doctors prescribe pain relievers. An analysis conducted by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute determined that up to 85 percent of workers’ compensation claims that involved pain relievers were prescribed opioid medication. When an employee begins taking opioid pain relievers, such as Vicodin, they may become addicted to the medication; ingesting the drug when they no longer require its pain-relieving properties.
The effects of an opioid addiction on the human body and personal lives of employees can be devastating. Not only can overdoses be fatal (nearly 50,000 deaths from overdosing in 2014), but an opioid addiction can severely inhibit an individual’s personal and professional life. Physical side effects of an opioid addiction include hypoxia, liver damage, nausea and vomiting, and brain damage. Not to mention the impacts a drug addiction can have on family life and personal finances.
Opioid addiction can also have a significant fiscal impact on a company as a whole. In 2007, Oxford University conducted a study and determined that the abuse of prescription opioids cost employers around 25 billion dollars in employee productivity. Not to mention, costs for criminal justice and health care accounted for an additional 25 billion dollars combined. Each of those statistics alone are substantial. Add them together, and its clear opioid addictions take a heavy toll on the finances of businesses across the nation.
How can employers help deal with Opioid addictions and dependency?
Employers need to be a positive force in the lives of their employees. The opioid addicting epidemic in the United States is very real, and it threatens every workplace in every occupation. Workplace safety is built by leadership that cares about every aspect of the workplace and the employees. There are ways employers can actively combat the opioid epidemic.
- Information is crucial when it comes to changes of any kind. Make sure your employees are aware of the current trends involving opioid medications and the workplace. Statistics, personal accounts, and guest speakers are all great ways to present the reality of the addiction threat. Arm your employees with information that can keep them from developing an addiction down the road.
- Creating a program for accountability and health is another way to battle opioid addictions, as well as addictions of any kind. Employee wellness programs are a great way to reduce chronic conditions, injuries, and overall physical health among employees.
- A clearly written drug policy will be helpful in holding employees accountable for their actions. Employees who are actively overusing opioid medication – or drugs of any sort – need to be aware of the consequences.
- Random drug screenings will help monitor employees and keep them accountable as well. Implementing these into the workplace will help keep your office drug free.
- Train your employees on how to recognize drug abuse in others. For example: excessive amounts of prescription bottles in the waste basket, someone getting sick a lot (weakened immune system) or even mood swings. Employees need to look out for each other, so keep them involved.
- Stay involved with employees you know are taking prescription opioids for pain relief due to a work-related accident. Be present in their recovery, not intrusive, but available. Make sure employees know there are others looking out for them.
Addiction, on any level, is unhealthy. Opioid addiction is very dangerous, and can be fatal. It is a significant threat to every workplace; especially when workplace injuries occur and employees are prescribed opioids for pain relief. Employers need to be aware of this threat, and take steps to protect their workplace.