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How to Deal with the Opioid Crisis at Work

Opioid abuse is a growing problem across the U.S.

From 2010 to 2016, the number of opioid use disorder diagnoses increased 493%.


Rate of opioid use disorder diagnoses per 1,000 members. Source: Blue Cross Blue Shield Association

And prescription opioid abuse costs employers:

  • $11.2 billion in lost earnings due to premature death
  • $7.9 billion due to reduced compensation or lost employment
  • $23.7 billion in excess medical and prescription costs

So what steps can you take at your workplace to help prevent opioid abuse and keep your employees healthy and productive?


Prescription Benefits Managers (PBMs) work to ensure proper drug use

One way insurers can help prevent opioid abuse or misuse is by actively monitoring your employees’ prescription data with a dedicated Prescription Benefits Manager.

PBMs are able to “flag” individuals who:

  • Make repeated attempts to fill prescriptions early
  • Present prescriptions for the same drug from several doctors
  • Have a high daily dosage or prescriptions for other drugs, especially sedatives

PBMs also collect data on doctors who prescribe opioids to patients, tracking “how often, how much, and for how long.” This kind of smart monitoring helps avoid unnecessary prescriptions and misuse.


The National Institute on Drug Abuse also offers some guidelines for opioid prescriptions:

  • Start low and go slow – patients should take the lowest possible dose for the least amount of time
  • Use immediate-release, rather than extended-release or long-acting opioids, to lower the risk of addiction
  • Avoid taking other opioids at the same time
  • Recommend non-opioid treatment, like behavioral therapy, if appropriate
  • Use a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP)


Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can help employees with addictions

An Employee Assistance Program may be a cost-effective way to support employees who have developed an addiction.

Offered through your health insurer, EAPs are benefit programs that partially or fully cover the price of treatment. And they offer employees confidential access to the medical help they need to fully address substance abuse.

70% of all U.S. companies and 90% of Fortune 500 companies purchase EAPs. This is because they’ve been shown to have positive returns on investment and can help you avoid some significant costs.


Educate your staff as a first line of defense

One simple way to help prevent substance abuse among your workforce is to have well-trained supervisors. They should know and/or be able to clearly communicate:

  • Your workplace drug use and testing policies, as well as any updates that may occur
  • Potential signs of opioid use or abuse, such as:
    • Bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils
    • Sudden weight loss
    • Mood swings
    • Withdrawal from co-workers
    • Slurred speech
  • ADA regulations regarding protected use of opioid prescriptions at work
  • The treatment, rehabilitation, and support resources available to employees


Working together to address opioid abuse

It’s a good first step to train employees and managers to recognize substance use disorder. But they also need to know what to do next and that there are resources available to help.

In addition to you own policies and programs, your health insurer may have educational materials you can use with your staff. Or it may offer other strategies for fighting the spread of opioid abuse.