Opioids, powerful painkillers that can be highly addictive, are causing a national health epidemic. The United States per capita has one of the highest rates of opioid use in the world. Today, drug overdoses exceed motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of unintentional death.
What is an Opioid?
Opioids are a diverse class of moderately strong painkillers which include codeine, oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl, among others. They represent the strongest pain medications on the market. Opioids play an important role in recovery, post trauma, post-surgery and in other medical conditions. However, appropriate type, dosage and duration need to be well managed.
Drug misuse occurs with the improper or unhealthy use of a medication as prescribed. Misuse can lead to drug addiction, which is a substance use disorder at the severe end of the spectrum characterized by a person’s inability to control the impulse to use drugs even when there are negative consequences.
Understanding the difference and knowing what to look for in your employees will help maintain a safer work environment.
The Impact on Workers’ Compensation
How is the workers’ compensation industry being impacted by the growing opioid epidemic? The numbers are staggering:
- Forty-seven people die each day from prescription opioids
- Opioid epidemic costs the U.S. economy over $95 billion annually, with employers paying $18 billion
- Total workers’ compensation spent on opioids in 2017 was $3.7 billion and $1 of every $7 medical dollars is spent on opioids
In the workplace, the misuse of prescription opioids may result in:
- Increased absenteeism
- Diminished productivity
- Poor morale
- Additional injuries
- Increase in workers’ compensation claims
- Increase in health care claims
Claim costs are more than three times greater when opioids are prescribed than compared to similar injuries without opioid prescriptions.
Opioid Use in the Workplace
There are many physical and behavioral symptoms to help spot opioid use in the workplace. Employers need to become familiar with changes in their employees’ appearance, behavior and performance.
In addition, employees who misuse prescription opioids are absent an average of three extra days per year, may have a higher turnover rate, change jobs more frequently and have a high risk of overdose death in industries and occupations with high rates of work-related injuries.
Seven out of 10 employers are feeling the effects of the opioid crisis. In fact, the construction and manufacturing industries have been hit the hardest by the opioid crisis, with opioid prescriptions consistently 5-10% higher than other industries.
Combating the Crisis
It’s in employers’ best interests to identify opioid use and support confidential access to treatment.
One of the keys to combatting the crisis is maintaining a drug-free workplace policy and drug testing protocols designed in conjunction with human resources, legal counsel and employee relations. Drug testing should occur pre-employment, for cause and post-accident.
Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). An EAP is cost effective when considering that replacing an employee can cost between 25 to 200 percent of their annual compensation and does not include the loss of company knowledge, continuity and productivity.
It’s important for all of us, the medical community, business owners and employees, to work together to tackle this complex and harmful epidemic.
The proactive role employers can take: Opioids in the workplace; saving jobs, saving lives and reducing human costs. National Safety Council. 05/31/2019
Prescription Drug Management In Workers Compensation, the Fifteenth Annual Survey Report (2017 data), J Paduda, 2018; 05/30/2019
Signs of Abuse https://safetymanagementgroup.com/detecting-and-dealing-with-workplace-opioid-abuse/; 05/30/2019
Warning signs of abusing drugs: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/drug-abuse-and-addiction.htm; 5/30/2019
Opioids and Work https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2019-101/work.html; 5/30/2019
Founded in 1925, CopperPoint Insurance Companies is a leading provider of workers’ compensation and commercial insurance solutions operating in six southwestern states. To learn more about our insurance products and find resources to better manage your risks, explore our website or contact your independent insurance agent.