Study: Opioid Addiction Crisis Affecting US Employers

The nation’s opioid epidemic reaches far and wide and no place is immune to it, and that includes the workplace. A recent report by the National Safety Council offers insight into US employers’ perceptions about prescription drug use and how it affects the workplace, and the policies they use to address it.

According to the report, more than 70 percent of US employers surveyed have been affected by employees’ prescription drugs usage.

Among its findings are:

  • Nearly 40 percent of employers have experienced workers being absent or missing work because of prescription drug use
  • Nearly 40 percent report that their employees have used prescription pain relievers at work
  • Nearly 30 percent report that some workers have experienced decreased job performance because of prescription drug use at work

Synthetic Opioids Left Out of Drug Screenings

Although 13 percent of employers responded they are “very confident” their employees can recognize signs of misuse, 76 percent reported they do not offer training on how to identify signs of misuse.

Just 19 percent of employers reported feeling “extremely prepared” to address prescription drugs misuse.

Drug screenings typically are used to detect cocaine, heroin, and marijuana and other illegal drugs in a person’s system, but just 41 percent of employers screen for synthetic opioids, according to the survey.

That likely needs to change and soon.

“Employers must understand that the most dangerously misused drug today may be sitting in employees’ medicine cabinets,” said National Safety Council President and CEO Deborah AP Hersman in a recent news release.

She added, “Even when they are taken as prescribed, prescription drugs and opioids can impair workers and create hazards on the job. We hope these findings prompt employers to take the lead on this emerging issue so that workplaces can be as safe as possible.”

Millions of People Take Prescription Drugs, and They Have Jobs

With more than half of the US population taking some kind of prescription medicine, chances are good that many of them are among the 150 million-plus people who participate in the US labor market. And, there is always the possibility that some people will take those medications far longer than prescribed, which can result in misuse, physical dependence, and eventually psychological dependence, or addiction.

It is a fact employers can no longer ignore. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially has declared the abuse of prescribed medications in the US an epidemic.

“Opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record. Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid,” the agency says on its website.

Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration show that nearly 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014.

And the American Psychiatric Association includes “recurrent opioid use resulting in failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home” in its diagnostic criteria for opioid use disorder.

In a separate report from its recent survey, the council wrote that “opioid prescription medications are both a health and a safety issue in your workplace.”

“These medications are powerful, highly addictive drugs that have the potential to cause impairment, increase the risk of workplace incidents, errors and injury even when taken as prescribed.”

Prescription Drugs ‘A Two-Edged Sword’

According to a National Public Radio-Truven Health Analytics poll released in March 2017, more people are taking opioids despite the documented risks that come with taking them. More than half of the people surveyed in that poll (57 percent) said they had been prescribed pain medication, such as Percocet, Vicodin or morphine.

Ron Ozminkowski, ‎vice president of cognitive analytics in the value-based care pillar at IBM Watson Health, who works with Truven on the poll, told NPR: “The drugs are like a two-edged sword,” adding, “They’re great for people who really need them for heavy duty pain, but they come with addiction risk and side effects.”

The poll asked about respondents’ specific concerns about opioids. Thirty-three percent responded they were concerned about addiction while another 30 percent said the medications’ side effects were their concern.

Getting Employees Help

On a high note, 70 percent of employers surveyed by the council said they would like to help employees who are struggling with prescription drug misuse, either by returning them to their position after appropriate treatment or ensuring they are carefully monitored for the duration of their employment.

The council recommends that employers recognize the effects that prescription drugs have on the workplace and that they put strong policies in place among other recommendations in the report.

Prescription Drug Use: Know the Signs

Education is important in recognizing the signs of prescription medications abuse, which includes knowing when someone may be going through opiate addiction withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms occur when someone who is misusing or abusing prescription pain medication reduces or stops their intake of these medications, which include methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone, among others. According to the CDC, these three prescription medications are the most commonly overdosed.

Signs of on-the-job prescription drug use that may affect work performance include:

  • Breathing problems (such as slowed breathing rate)
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Excessive mood swings or hostility; personality changes
  • Increase or decrease in sleep
  • Increase in missed deadlines, errors made at work
  • Nausea
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor decision-making

If you notice these signs in yourself or an employee who’s taking prescription drugs, it is important that you seek help as soon as possible.

Struggling With Opioid Addiction?

Is your prescription drug painkiller affecting your work performance? Drug Treatment Center Finder can help you or your loved one with understanding more about withdrawal and help you find a treatment center that fits your needs. Our services also can help you find a medically supervised detox that can start before your withdrawal symptoms get worse. The sooner you call us, the sooner you can start feeling better. Call us now at (855) 619-8070.

Staff writer :