Dangers of Untreated Opioid Addiction in the Workplace
Ben’s introduction to drug use began at age 15 with marijuana and alcohol. It was triggered, he says, by cultural pressure and how rock stars glorified drug use. At 17, Ben added opioids to his drug repertoire after being prescribed oxycodone for post-surgical pain. Instead of using the drugs for pain, he kept them and a few months later started taking oxycodone recreationally. When he ran out, Ben turned to the street for highly dangerous fentanyl and other synthetic opioids to satisfy a growing craving that resulted in an arrest and drug charge.
Untreated, otherwise healthy and productive individuals such as Ben become a costly, dangerous liability at work—and unable to adequately care for their families at home or function in society. We interact with them every day as family members, friends, and co-workers; some become tragic statistics.
Thankfully, Ben is still around to tell his story. Unfortunately, there are millions of others who end up with multiple addictions and associated mental health disorders.
In the most recent 12-month period for which data is available, there were over 100,000 drug overdose deaths recorded in the U.S., marking a 15-percent increase over the previous year. Approximately 66 percent of these deaths were opioid related.
Untreated opioid use disorder has resulted in significant costs to users, their families, and society. This is the result of increased healthcare spending, criminal justice issues such as crime and theft, and lost productivity. To make things worse, opioids today have become more potent than ever, as narcotics laced with fast-acting synthetic opioids such as fentanyl flood the streets.
In addition to the societal costs of opioid misuse, employers bear a significant financial burden. For companies providing healthcare benefits for employees and families, the rise in OUDs can be a concern on both a personal and professional level. Missed work days and lost productivity due to the misuse of prescription painkillers have cost employers an estimated $25.6 billion a year.
When employers focus on the OUD crisis, not only are they lowering healthcare costs, increasing productivity, and reducing workplace safety risk, they’re also helping employees and their families regain physical and mental health and improving overall quality of life.
The good news is that employers who proactively address workplace OUDs can benefit the employee, their family and friends, and the communities in which they work by
- Leveraging employment as a motivator for entering and adhering to treatment
- Educating employees about the availability and effectiveness of substance use disorder treatment programs without fear of job loss
- Driving better treatment outcomes by improving access to care through virtual substance use disorder treatment
Additional steps employers can take include:
- Expanding coverage of alternatives for pain management
- Providing training in the workplace to increase awareness of signs of opioid use disorder
- Working with health plans to encourage physicians to communicate the dangers of opioids.
Realizing that fewer than 10% of those with a substance use disorder seek treatment, companies have begun to offer digital clinic care as an employee benefit, enabling access to confidential addiction treatment, anywhere and at any time.
Addressing the worsening opioid crisis is one of the greatest challenges of our times, with policymakers, employers, and healthcare delivery innovators having critical roles to play. Employers today are in a unique position to not only implement the most innovative, effective, and life-saving solutions, but to empower employees, provide safe, destigmatized work environments, and directly impact societal attitudes toward addiction and recovery.
* Based on real-life stories from Quit Genius Opioid Program Research Interviews
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