Business of Well-being

Proactive Ways Employers Can Address the Opioid Crisis in the Workplace

If you think our nation's opioid epidemic could never affect your workplace, think again. More than 70 percent of U.S. employers report feeling a direct impact of prescription drug misuse in their workplaces, according to a survey by the National Safety Council (NSC). The opioid crisis isn't just crippling our nation's health and causing an immeasurable amount of pain to those who have lost loved ones.

From impaired job performance to absenteeism and arrests, there are several negative side effects of opioid abuse that impact employers. With the humanitarian and human resources aspects to this crisis, it begs the question: What are some proactive ways employers can help curb this epidemic.

Learn to identify warning signs

From drowsiness to slurred speech, there are several signs employers should be aware of when trying to determine if an employee is abusing opioids. However, the NSC survey found that a mere 13 percent of U.S. employers claim to be very confident that their workers could identify signs of opioid misuse in a colleague.

Despite this, only 24 percent of survey respondents said they offer employee training on this important topic. Consider hiring an expert to conduct a workshop or webinar to educate human resource professionals and employees on the signs to look for when evaluating if a colleague appears to be misusing opioids.

Consider legalities of workplace drug policies

Employers should also consult legal counsel and carefully consider the legalities of workplace drug policies when they suspect an employee is suffering from opioid abuse. From confronting employees who may have a prescription drug problem to implementing drug testing policies, there are several important legal issues to consider so that companies do not put themselves at risk for litigation.

In light of the opioid epidemic the country is currently facing, now is an optimal time to revisit workplace drug policies. The NSC survey found that an astonishing 81 percent of U.S. employers were missing a critical element in their workplace drug policies. From lacking clarity on issues such as employee use of prescription drugs at work, to return to work policies for employees taking impairing medications, the survey revealed several alarming oversights within the vast majority of workplace drug policies.

Promoting medication collection

Opioid prescriptions - and access to them - are multiplying at an astounding rate. More than 240 million prescriptions were written for opioids in one year, according to a study from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills. This startling statistic raises a simple question: with more than 240 million prescription opioids in circulation, what happens to unused or expired prescription drugs?

Unfortunately, many of these medications are getting into the hands of unintended recipients. An alarming 50.5 percent of people who abuse prescription drugs receive them from friends or family for free, according to data from the National Survey for Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Employees' own medicine cabinets can be one of the biggest challenges to overcoming the opioid crisis. Yet this predicament is also one of the biggest opportunities for employers to proactively combat the crisis in workplaces across the country.

One simple way to help curb the opioid epidemic is by offering employees a convenient and environmentally friendly way to dispose of unused and expired prescriptions through medication mail back envelopes. These pre-paid, pre-addressed envelopes remove medications from employees' homes and prevent opportunities for prescription drug abuse. Employers provide the employees with the envelopes, employees take the home to gather up their unwanted medications, place the unwanted medications in the envelope, place them in the mail.

The envelopes are returned to a facility authorized to receive them and properly destroy the medications in a controlled environment ensuring complete destruction. The statistics are now startling clear. There's a very small chance employers will not be affected by the opioid crisis in some way. However, by exploring methods to proactively address the opioid epidemic, employers can make a difference in their workplaces and our country.

About the Author

Maricha Ellis is the Vice President of Marketing and Sales Operations of Stericycle Environmental Solutions, a leading provider of environmental and regulated waste management solutions. The company's award-winning Seal&Send Medication MailBack Envelopes help employers of all sizes provide a simple and convenient way for employees to dispose of unused and expired medications.

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