Opioids such as Fentanyl, Percocet and Hydrocodone, are prescription pain relievers presently prescribed at an alarming rate. These drugs aren’t injected through a dirty syringe or snorted from a glass coffee table next to an overflowing ashtray, these are pills popped out of a common orange bottle filled at your local pharmacy and prescribed by your friendly neighborhood doctor. As innocent as they appear, opioids, according to the CDC, killed 33,000 Americans in 2015. Those dying are not careless, sallow eyed teens. Many are everyday working class joes who became addicted to opioids while trying to deal with the pain of an injury. Quite a few of your co-workers are likely addicted and you may not even know it.
Here are a few startling statistics that capture the seriousness of this epidemic:
- Thirty-five percent of Americans were prescribed opioid painkillers in 2015 – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- 23% of the U.S. workforce have used prescription drugs non-medically – National Safety Council
- According to the federal Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, roughly 10 to 12 percent of workers are under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs while at work.
- A 2017 survey of more than 500 HR professionals by the Center For Disease Control revealed that 39% reported that employees missed work due to opioid use, 15% that opioid use caused or nearly caused a workplace injury and 10% have had workers overdose from opioids on or off the job.
- Injured workers who are prescribed even one opioid have average total claim costs four times greater than similar claims from workers who were not prescribed opioids – National Safety Council
- A 2016 CDC study estimates that nonfatal overdoses cost $20 billion in lost productivity.
- Fifty-seven percent of companies drug test all their employees, but 41% of those tests don’t screen for opioid pain relievers – National Safety Council
- According to a NSC employer survey, only 13% of respondents are confident their workers could identify opioid abuse among their colleagues.
Managers must be cognizant of potential abuse in their workplace. Here are a few signs to look for when detecting opioid abuse:
- Mood swings
- Changes in energy level – They nod off on the job
- Signs of withdrawal – Flu, nausea, diarrhea, sweating, shaking, aches, runny nose
- Pill bottles in trash can
- Financial problems – Borrowing money
What steps can you as an employer take to create a drug free workplace?
- Enact a clear drug policy.
- Train employees on the dangers of illegal and prescription drugs and how to seek help.
- Train supervisors on how to spot potential drug abuse and what steps they should follow.
- Create an employee assistance program which enables employees to access services for personal concerns privately.
- Expand your drug testing beyond the commonly used five-panel test to one that detects commonly used opioids such as oxycodone.
To get employees the help they really need, HR professionals must take care to remove the stigma of addiction and not shame their employees. This is perhaps the first step to providing real help.