By Steve Wagner, Senior Business Development Specialist at Aurora Health Care
The impact of opioid use in the US has become one of the most devastating and impactful health concerns in recent history, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. With approximately 115 Americans dying from opioid overdoses every day, the misuse of and addiction to opioids, which include prescription pain medication, heroin and other synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, has taken a serious social and economic toll on the US.
In fact, it is estimated that the financial burden of opioid use exceeds $78.5 billion annually due to lost productivity, increased health care claims, addiction treatment expenses, and added burden on the criminal justice system. To fully understand the breadth and scope of opioid use in America, consider the following statistics[i]
What to look for
- Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
- Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.
- An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
- About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
With the prevalence of opioids growing every year, it is critical that employers are aware of not only the dangers of opioid use in the workplace, but also the signs and symptoms of employees who may be misusing or abusing opioids.
After all, itís estimated that over 75% of people with substance abuse disorders are employed; it would therefore only stand to reason that their addictions can spill over into the workplace. The following are several of the physical and behavioral symptoms commonly associated with opioid use[ii]
- Noticeable elation/euphoria
- Marked sedation/drowsiness
- Constricted pupils
- Slowed breathing
- Intermittent nodding off, or loss of consciousness
- Shifting or dramatically changing moods
- Extra pill bottles turning up in the trash
- Social withdrawal/isolation
- Sudden financial problems
While the aforementioned symptoms may indicate opioid use and abuse, the following symptoms and behaviors may be indicative of opioid withdrawal:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Inability to sleep
Isolated occurrences of the preceding symptoms are not necessarily the result of opioid abuse or addiction. However, repeated occurrences of multiple symptoms may be cause for concern.
Steps to take
Awareness of opioid addiction is only half the battle. In the workplace, it is important to a have sound strategy in place to address and resolve issues surrounding drug and alcohol abuse. To ensure the safety of your employees, consider the following strategies:
Did you know?
- Implement a standardized drug and alcohol policy, and incorporate it into the employee handbook.
- Standardize various methods of drug testing, including: pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, post-accident, and random.
- Educate your leadership on what to look for. Conduct reasonable suspicion training on a regular basis for management and supervisors.
- Know your resources and use them! Engage your EAP partner, as well as other free referral services such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrationís (SAMHSA) national hotline.[iii]
Employees can receive confidential EAP assessments for drug and alcohol addiction. In addition, an EAP partner can also assist with:
Where do we go from here?
- Facilitating onsite reasonable suspicion training for managers
- Assisting with developing drug and alcohol policies
- Administering mandatory EAP referrals for employees struggling with drug and alcohol issues
- Providing access to free national and community-based resources for drug addiction
It will take a well-coordinated effort by all affected stakeholders ó including concerned employers (and their employees) and the medical community ó to tackle this public health issue. This means more vigilant detection, reporting and testing, as well as encouraging employers to offer EAP referrals and follow-up services such as addiction counseling to their employees.
National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis