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Only 19% of Employers Are Prepared for Addiction in the Workplace

The opioid epidemic and addiction in the workplace are serious issues for employers and HR managers.

Of the 21 million Americans with a substance use disorder, nearly 2 million are addicted to opioids, and nearly 600,000 use heroin (other estimates are even higher.) Drug overdose was the leading cause of accidental death in the United States in 2015.

It’s a crisis with no boundaries. People of every gender, race, socioeconomic background and industry are affected.

According to a comprehensive report from the National Safety Council (NSC), “three-quarters of those struggling with addiction to alcohol, pain medication, marijuana and other substances are employed.”

The economic fallout of addiction means companies lose over 400 billion dollars each year from drug-related absenteeism, impaired job performance and lost productivity. Yet, only a meager 19% of employers feel prepared to deal with the issue.

Every HR manager has a responsibility to take action and help employees who suffer from addiction. Here’s what you should do (and not do) to make your workplace safer for all.

Don’t: Update your drug-free workplace policy and call it a day

A strong, clear policy is great. (Scroll to page 5 of the NSC report for a sample policy.) But your workplace has to be prepared to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Do: Call your employee health plan provider today

The NSC recommends that employers “insist on specialized programs coordinated through their occupational medical and health plan providers to manage the conservative use and risk of opioid medications for treatable pain.”

Talk to your Prescription Benefit Manager to ensure they flag such indicators as high prescription dosages, attempts at early refills, doctors who are frequent subscribers, and individuals who seek prescriptions from multiple doctors.

Don’t: Wait for a crisis situation to put a plan in place

You might not think that substance abuse is an issue in your workplace. Think again.

7 in 10 employers have already experienced issues due to prescription drug use, and the number will continue to rise. Do not wait until you have an incident to put a plan in place.

Put a plan in place now.

Do: Invest in a better Employee Assistance Program

The bottom line of NSC’s latest survey is: “Employer supported and monitored treatment yields better-sustained recovery rates than treatment initiated at the request of friends and family members.”

“While many companies have EAPs, few employees use them,” the report says. “Many employees don’t understand the value or may fear negative ramifications if they seek help.”

Make sure your EAP includes addiction services. Train your employees so they understand exactly how to use it and what to expect.

Don’t: Fire an employee who fails a drug test — help them

Here’s an interesting paradox: 71% of employers believe addiction is a disease that should be treated like any other chronic condition. Yet, 65% believe it’s also a fireable offense.

Follow the lead of employers like Cummins, Inc. When employees fail their opioid drug test, the company directs them toward treatment. They’ve even opened their own health center with alternative pain treatment options like acupuncture and physical therapy.

Do: Reduce shame and stigma in the workplace

Talking openly and honestly about substance abuse is the first step toward helping your employees. Let them know you’re there to help, not judge.

“The biggest reason employers should care about the issue is out of concern for their employees,” says Deborah Hersman of NSC. “For some workers, employer engagement may be the difference between life and death.”

Start with a visit to NSC’s website to download your free employer kit.

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