opioids in the workplace

What Employers Can Do About Opioids In The Workplace

Here’s the shocking news: the odds of dying from an unintentional opioid overdose in a given lifetime (1 in 96) are now greater than the lifetime odds of dying in a motor vehicle-related crash (1 in 103). 

That’s according to the National Safety Council, a jolting finding that employers, regardless of their industry, should understand and, in fact, can perhaps do something about. 

Like what, you ask? 

Well, for starters, NSC recommends that employers should “insist upon conservative prescribing guidelines for pain treatment for all participating providers in their medical, workers’ comp and occupational health programs.” 

The point is that non-opioids have been shown to be as effective as opioid medications for pain, but doctors are still prescribing opioids disproportionately. So make sure your company’s health plan is tackling this crisis with the insurance company that covers your workers. 

The Safety Council also recommends workplaces follow these steps to help combat opioid abuse at work: 

  • Establish a clear, written policy on prescription medication. For example, your policy may stipulate that it’s a violation for workers to use, possess, sell, trade or offer for sale alcohol, illegal drugs or intoxicants. NSC recommends consulting with your organization’s legal team to ensure all federal and state-specific guidelines are reflected in your policy.
  • Educate workers. Although the doctor-patient relationship is confidential, employees should be encouraged to discuss concerns with their employers about taking prescribed opioid painkillers. “Employees then should work with their prescriber to determine if a non-opioid prescription can be used,” NSC states.
  • Train supervisors. It’s crucial that managers stay current on their workplace’s policies for prescription drug use and understand signs of impairment in their workers.
  • Offer an employee assistance program. “Promoting drug-free workplace initiatives increases employee use of these resources,” the council notes, adding that supervisors should feel comfortable advocating EAPs.
  • Consider drug testing. Drug-testing programs must address nonmedical drug and prescription drug abuse in the workplace, according to NSC. Although most employees use prescription medications correctly, some do not.