Why Employee Commitment is Critical
December 6, 2019

Opioids at Work

Over 2 million Americans suffer from Opioid Use Disorder (OUD ), and about two-thirds of them are in the workforce. The opioid crisis is negatively impacting employers and employees, creating new challenges for workplace policies.

The opioid overdose crisis involves three categories of opioids – prescription painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl. Even if taken as prescribed, any opioid can cause impairment, dependence, and addiction. I am going to share information about the different categories of opioids, their uses, and how your business can play a role in prevention and supporting your employees to use them wisely. 

Prescription opioids 

These are prescribed painkillers and are most often used to treat acute or chronic pain. Employees prescribed prescription opioids may be at risk for impairment or developing OUD, and employers can help educate them on the dangers and the alternatives. To prevent opioid misuse and OUD, it is essential to understand prescription opioids and their relationship to pain management.

Acute pain 

Pain caused by surgery or an injury, known as acute pain – is often treated with a short term opioid prescription. Creating a workplace policy that gives employees enough time to fully heal after an injury or surgery will help reduce the chance they will be impaired at work. It may also reduce the risk that employees will ask for a refill of opioids to be able to return to work before they’re fully healthy.  

Chronic pain  

Over 20 percent of adults report having chronic pain that they experience on most days or every day, and that has lasted three or more months.  People living with chronic pain often manage it in more than one way, with a combination of exercise, physical therapy, acupuncture, and over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers. Creating a work environment with ergonomic chairs and relaxation rooms with yoga mats for stretching will give employees alternative ways to manage self-care.  

Some employees may need long-term prescriptions for opioids and should not be confused with employees who misuse opioids. Workplace policies and health care coverage should work to minimize the risk for opioid misuse but not interfere with patients with chronic pain for whom opioids are the appropriate choice of care. 

Heroin and fentanyl 

Heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain when prescription opioids aren’t accessible, becoming an alternative to employees who develop an OUD. Heroin is significantly more potent than prescription opioids and is particularly dangerous because there is no way to tell how strong it is before taking it. 

While some fentanyl is manufactured legitimately and is primarily used for end-stage cancer pain, it is much stronger than heroin. It is frequently used to “cut” heroin for sale on the streets. Buying and using illegal drugs and other related unlawful activities is a result of OUD. It is a significant concern for employers because If something happens on company property, while on the job, or is reported per company policy, a particular protocol is needed (as opposed to dismissal) to refer the employee to addiction treatment.  

Business concerns Safety concerns 

Impaired employees are a safety hazard to themselves, their co-workers, and their work environment. Construction, transportation, and other industries that are prone to higher rates of workplace injury have been hit particularly hard by the opioid crisis. Even when taken as prescribed, opioid painkillers can impair thinking and reaction time. They can lead to serious errors when performing job tasks that require focus, attention to detail, or the need to react quickly.  

Employee Health and Wellbeing 

Many employers are focusing on corporate responsibility to employee health by addressing wellbeing as well as business and safety concerns and addressing the impact that the opioid crisis has on the workplace.

 “Wellbeing” takes into account the physical, mental, emotional, and social health of employees and are key areas leading the misuse of opioids or developing an OUD. Designing health and safety programs to address organizational, occupational, and personal activities will enhance worker wellbeing and help prevent work-related injuries and illnesses. Employees will also take the knowledge they gained at work home with them, increasing the education and safety of their family and community. 

Employers play a crucial role in employee wellbeing 

Employers who have strong workplace policies, employee education programs, strong health benefits package, well-trained managers, and a healthy workplace culture, will create a safe and healthy work environment in which both employees and businesses thrive. The workplace can play an essential role in reaching employees, families, and communities to help prevent further opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose, as well as help those already affected. 

In conclusion, developing a workplace culture of health and wellness that reduces stigma and supports recovery will help to minimize employees’ misuse of opioids and other drugs and alcohol. Creating compassionate, comprehensive policies and avoiding a “one size fits all” approach will help offer support while keeping your workplace healthy and accountable.  

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