Opioid addiction has made its way into practically every corner of our country in recent years. So it should be no surprise that the epidemic has slowly spread from the home front to the workplace. For employers all over the country, including those in Connecticut, the struggle is real.
Late last year, the Hartford Business Journal published a month-long series called “Opioids in the Workplace” that shared how the current drug epidemic is affecting companies and their employees. Here is some sobering data from the Journal’s series, along with details on how employers are addressing CT opioid addiction in the workplace.
In 2012, 357 Connecticut residents died from an accidental overdose.
In 2016, there were 917 deaths from overdoses (a 25% increase from 2015). Nearly 60% of those individuals had some amount of heroin, morphine or codeine detected in their systems.
2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the opioid epidemic cost the U.S. $78.5 billion – including $16.3 billion in lost worker productivity and higher disability.
A National Safety Council survey of U.S. employers reported that more the 70% of the employers surveyed believed they were impacted by prescription drug abuse – mostly from workers absenteeism, on-the-job substance abuse, positive drug tests or decreased work performance.
Both blue- and white-collar industries are impacted by the epidemic, but physically demanding sectors like construction and manufacturing are at a higher risk.
Health care and insurance efforts
The health care industry, insurance companies and even employers are taking steps to help manage the crisis.
In the health care industry, medication-assisted treatment is a fast-growing segment. According to data from the Department of Mental Health and Drug Addiction Services, close to 14,500 people sought treatment for opioid addiction in Connecticut in 2016. Those who sought a medication-based treatment eliminated the need for a hospital detox and long-term rehab. This treatment option allows individuals to continue working or going to school, with less disruption to their life.
Health insurance providers are encouraging doctors across the country to prescribe fewer opioids that have a likelihood of turning addictive. According to the Journal’s series, it’s a slow process but it’s moving in the right direction.
Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield reported their members’ opioid prescriptions dropped 17% in CT from 2016-2017. Cigna reported progress towards a 25% cut in prescriptions by next year. Aetna is looking to reduce inappropriate opioid prescriptions among their members by 50% over the next 4 years. And UnitedHealthcare reported that its commercial health plan members showed a 41% decrease in the number of opioid prescriptions written.
What are the alternative pain treatments being prescribed in place of opioids? There are many, from chiropractic and acupuncture services to cognitive behavioral therapy and yoga.
Connecticut employers of all sizes and across all industries are taking steps to not only recognize potential opioid-addicted workers, but also to provide valuable support to those who are struggling.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are one way companies are reaching out to help employees. EAPs have been around for years, helping employees with issues ranging from substance abuse to domestic problems. Today, EAPs are called upon most frequently to help address employee opioid addiction. Through their EAP network, employers can provide addicted workers with the support and critical follow-up they need to get better.
Many employers are also taking a proactive approach to fighting the opioid crisis by updating their employment policies and procedures. Policies that strictly enforce a drug-free workplace, regular drug testing and disciplinary actions can help reduce potential workplace problems.
Company training that educates employees and raises awareness of the warning signs of opioid addiction can also be beneficial.
If your organization hasn’t taken steps to help fight CT opioid addiction, now’s the time to do it. Many online resources can point you in the right direction. To start, visit sites like the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, the National Safety Council, OSHA and the Society for Human Resource Management.