Opioids as a Workforce Issue

by Jeff Kirke

Drug use by the American workforce is at its highest rate in more than a decade. Recently, national attention on drug misuse has focused on prescription opioids. In Arizona, opioid overdoses have increased by 74 percent since 2014. Opioid prescription medications are both a health and safety issue in the workplace. Companies of all sizes have an important role in promoting the health and safety of employees and managing risk in the workplace. 

The opioid epidemic creates unique challenges for employers. Drug free workplace programs, including drug testing and policies about prescription drug use in the workplace, need to be looked at. Employers who have strong policies, health benefit programs and a culture that creates a safe and healthy environment enabling both employees and companies are the ones that thrive. 

Opioid misuse by employees can impact the workplace in a number of ways, including the cost of healthcare and workers’ compensation insurance. The average workers’ compensation claim for lost time can be about 900 percent higher for workers using opioid painkillers compared to claims where no opioid painkillers were used.

Employers should examine their current policies and make necessary adjustments to respond to the growing drug epidemic and ensure employee safety. Businesses should develop a workplace policy and share resources with employees about prescription painkillers, and update their drug-free workplace programs and structure benefits to address opioid misuse. 

In 2017, Arizona began tracking opioid overdoses and have discovered that at least two people die each day as a result of opioid overdose. In order to make an impact and help save lives, it will take all of us — insurers, doctors, employers and government regulators standing together in the community. Utilizing proper risk management procedures when hiring or drug testing employees can help employers keep their employees safe and manage drug use in the workforce.   

Jeff Kirke is vice president of employee benefits at the Scottsdale office of Holmes Murphy, a privately-held insurance brokerage whose focus is providing the cumulative knowledge and experience that make insurance and businesses work better.

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