While sitting in rush hour traffic recently, I heard a report on the radio about the opioid crisis. The story reported that, “for the first time in U.S. history, a leading cause of deaths — vehicle crashes — has been surpassed in likelihood by opioid overdoses.”
Americans now have a 1 in 96 chance of dying from an opioid overdose, according to the analysis of 2017 data on accidental death. The probability of dying in a motor vehicle crash is 1 in 103. As I looked around me at all the other cars, I realized how sobering, and how very real, this statistic is.
It is with good reason that employers have a growing concern about this public health crisis. Opioid and prescription drug misuse not only impacts employee health and well-being, it affects productivity and can result in increased health care costs. Employers are in a position to respond to this crisis and help save lives.
Workplace Actions for Addressing the Opioid Crisis
Here are actions employers can take to address the opioid and prescription drug crisis head on:
Focus on Safety
Creating a safe workplace that minimizes on-the-job injuries is a great first step. In 2018, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported that workers employed in occupations known to have high rates of work-related injuries had higher rates of fatal opioid overdoses. 98.6 percent of inpatient surgery patients receive opioids to manage post-surgical pain. A reduction in injuries will lessen the need for administering these drugs in the first place.
Provide formal training to teach managers how to spot the warning signs for opioid and prescription drug misuse. Unlike alcohol, opioid use can be difficult to detect. Workplace training can also create awareness about alternative pain management techniques that may help avoid the ongoing use of opioids.
Medication Collection Services
All too often the person taking the opioids or other prescription drugs may not be the person for whom the prescription was originally written. Medication collection services provide a method of collecting unused prescription drugs, thereby preventing anyone, other than the person the medication was intended for, from taking the drugs. By providing envelopes for safe disposal, these services take the medications out of circulation.
Prescription Plan Modifications
Many employers are now working with their health plans and pharmacy benefit managers to modify the way in which opioids and prescription drugs are managed. Tactics include closely monitoring opioid prescription practices, limiting the quantity of pills dispensed on initial prescriptions and reducing the dose potency.
According to the World Health Organization, some individuals are at higher risk for misusing opioids and prescription drugs. Factors such as a history of substance use disorders, high prescribed dosage (over 100mg of morphine or equivalent daily), male gender, older age, multiple prescriptions, including benzodiazepines, mental health conditions and lower socioeconomic status contribute to having an increased risk for opioid misuse. Workplace resilience training can help create awareness of alternative coping mechanisms and train employees to recognize and adopt health conscious behaviors.
Using a proactive approach, employers can play an important role in helping to stem the tide of the opioid crisis in the workplace and beyond.