There are over 42,000 opioid-related deaths in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—a figure that has been rising steadily since the turn of the century. The opioid death rate is now more than five times greater than it was in 1999.
In addition to the skyrocketing opioid-related deaths, there are countless Americans who are still abusing
In addition to the skyrocketing opioid-related deaths, there are countless Americans who are still abusing prescription medications. This means employers must figure out how to best address this crisis with employees. That is where The Plexus Groupe can help.
The purpose of this toolkit is to help employers understand and deal with the opioid epidemic, create a healthier and more productive workforce, and reduce costs. This toolkit is not intended to replace the advice of a medical or legal professional. In many cases, you may need to contact a professional for assistance. However, this information can serve as a starting point for developing a meaningful opioid strategy.
What Are Opioids?
In the most basic terms, the CDC defines opioids as “a class of drugs used to reduce pain.” However, not all opioids are the same. There is a wide range of legal and illegal drugs that are classified as opioids. For example, Vicodin, a legal painkiller commonly prescribed to patients, is an opioid. By comparison, heroin, an illegally manufactured drug that has no medical use, is also an opioid. Both are killing thousands each year.
Opioids vs. Opiates
These terms are used interchangeably by many who report on the opioid crisis. While this may be fine for a basic understanding, knowing the difference between opioids and opiates could matter to your organization’s plan administrator.
This toolkit uses the term “opioid” exclusively to include both categories of drugs.
Common Types of Opioids
It should be clear by now that many drugs are considered opioids. Here are the names of some commonly abused opioids, with their brand names listed for recognition. These include prescription medications and illegal offshoots.
What Employers Can Do
The opioid crisis is not going away. Estimates show this epidemic costs the U.S. economy over $95 billion annually, with employers paying $18 billion of that themselves. And, these figures are only expected to rise. Employers need to do everything possible to combat the impact opioids have in the workplace.
There is no silver bullet for this crisis. However, exploring new initiatives can help you develop your own strategy to best suit the needs of your employees. This section provides examples that may help you.
Understanding the Impact
Employers across the country are working to curb the misuse of prescription opioids. With more employees falling victim to addiction, employers are seeing lower productivity, higher health care costs and fewer qualified job applicants.
When so much of the workforce is at risk of opioid abuse, that can put a strain on benefit programs—especially health care costs. Overprescribing creates ample room for abuse, which can result in employers paying more for their drug plan than they need to be.
It can be hard to identify illegitimate use, especially with prescribed medications. Employers may need to try more unique approaches to curb opioid abuse. Addressing the problem with employees directly can be a good place to start.
Opioid abuse is not happening in a vacuum. Even if employees themselves are not using opioids, their lives may be affected by loved ones who are. This can indirectly affect their job performance and contribute to the overall crisis.
Employers should do their best to provide employees with educational materials to help them understand and take action against the opioid crisis. Lasting reform can only happen if individuals take charge of their situation. Educating employees is the first step.
Consider the following suggestions when developing your own communication campaign:
Explain the Risks
Reminding people about addiction’s tragic side effects could help motivate them to abstain from or seek treatment. Directly facing the consequences of your actions can be powerful, especially when paired with other resources. Try putting up posters or sending information directly to employees that calls attention to the dangers of opioid misuse.
Encourage Employees to Speak With a Doctor
Sometimes employees do not think to speak to their doctors about opioid abuse. This could be because employees are worried about losing their prescriptions, or perhaps they do not know how their doctor could help. Regardless, a doctor is more qualified than your organization’s HR department to help with medical issues stemming from opioids.
Educate employees on the importance of speaking openly with their doctors. If they are worried about losing a prescription, explain that there are other effective ways to treat chronic pain. Most importantly, reassure employees that their doctors are there to help, not get them in trouble for misusing medication.
Promote Your EAP
Employee assistance programs (EAPs) can be extremely beneficial for your workforce. Traditionally, EAPs help with personal issues, like smoking cessation or stress management. However, they can also help with opioid usage.
Like any other EAP, a program geared specifically toward opioids can help employees deal with this debilitating addiction and put energy back into their job. Read more about EAPs in the following section.
Employee Assistance Programs
Because substance abuse and mental health issues can impact the workplace so significantly, many companies choose to offer EAPs. However, an EAP is only useful if it is tailored to your employees’ needs. In this case, employees need resources to fight their opioid addictions.
An EAP supplies professionals who provide counseling to employees and their families in a safe and private atmosphere. Generally, all the information disclosed will remain confidential, and no disclosure to employers will be made without written permission. Using an EAP will not jeopardize an employee’s job or chance for promotion, which are two repercussions many drug users fear. These factors lower barriers and can encourage more people to seek help.
The EAP makes a limited number of counseling sessions available to employees at no cost. Should an employee and his or her counselor decide that a referral to an outside provider is necessary, those costs will then be the employee’s responsibility.
Consult your EAP vendor to determine what the payment structure looks like so you can advise employees on best usage practices.
Benefits of an EAP
An EAP not only helps employees, it helps the entire business. When employees are in good mental and physical health, the whole organization benefits.
Offering an EAP can put employees in touch with experts who can help start their treatment.
Opioid addiction should be treated like a chronic illness. Simply providing one treatment option will not help create lasting change. It takes time, energy and ongoing treatment to help reverse opioid addiction.
Speak with your EAP vendor to discuss adaptions that can better meet the needs of your workforce.
Have questions regarding opioid addiction in the workplace, this newsletter, or any other employee benefits matters? Contact a client service team representative from The Plexus Groupe in Deer Park, Illinois at 847-307-6100, Chicago at 312-606-4800, Dallas at 972-770-5010 or Oklahoma City at 405-840-3033.
We’re here to help and we’re happy to help.
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