Employers Feel Pain When Employees Abuse Prescription Opioids

When prescription painkillers are abused, most people focus on the consequences of the drug dependence on the individual. It’s not difficult to picture how someone who has developed a problem with a dependence on or a full-blown addiction to prescription painkillers would have a number of issues in their life. These could range from relationship issues to financial difficulties to problems with the law. Very few people would stop to think about how prescription painkiller dependence impacts their performance on the job.

Prescription Drug Abuse Costs Employers Billions Annually

Close to two million Americans either were dependent on or abused prescription opioid medications in 2014, according to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association).

Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that this dependence and abuse cost the US $78.5 billion (2013 data). A large portion of this cost is borne by employers, who lost $16.3 billion in a combination of lost productivity and increased disability. A further $14 billion per year was borne by private health insurance companies, according to the same study.

Need to Balance Employee Needs with Workplace Safety

Employers understand that the vast majority of employees are being prescribed opioid pain relievers legitimately and are using them as directed by their doctor. They also know that most people who are prescribed these types of medications don’t end up abusing them.

Depending on the type of workplace, some employers have begun to screen new hires for opioids. They also ask current employees who are suspected of using drugs to submit to a test that includes being screened for opioids. A positive result for a prescription pain medication would mean that the employee would be encouraged to get treatment, if appropriate, and would be reassigned to tasks that are not considered “safety sensitive.”

Encouraging employees to get treatment means the employer doesn’t necessarily have to sever the relationship with a worker due to a substance abuse issue. The employee can get the help they need and either continue working while getting help through an outpatient program or may resume work after completing a residential treatment program. Finding and training workers costs employers time and money. Working with them to find a solution to a substance abuse problem may be the less costly solution.