Here’s the reality: the number of people addicted to opioids is climbing at an alarming rate, and this crisis isn’t going away anytime soon.

As employers, we need to understand the gravity of the situation and avoid the “it can’t happen at my workplace” mentality. The fact is, opioid addiction is happening everywhere and there aren’t nearly enough resources being provided to prevent and/or address it. How big has this problem become? A 2017 report from the National Safety Council says that more than 70% of employers in the United States have felt the effect of employees’ prescription drug use in the workplace. CNN published another study on one employer that experienced a 493% increase in the number of employees diagnosed with an opioid addiction from 2000-2016. While this may be a more extreme case, CNN also shared a report – looking at a larger population – that found that only one in 10 people who are addicted to opioids receives the specialized treatment needed.

Awareness is a great place to start. Do your employees and leaders know what the signs of opioid addiction are and what to do if they suspect someone is exhibiting them at the workplace? This is essential information to share as people who are misusing opioids could put the safety of others at risk. Resources are also important. Are employee assistance programs (EAPs) part of your health benefits plan and is it communicated thoroughly enough that these are a confidential way to reach out for help?

Another consideration for employers is testing. If your workplace does drug testing – from pre-employment and random to post-accident – make sure opioids aren’t overlooked. They should be included as part of the full panel being screened for.

Opioid addiction is an issue we should all be paying attention to. Employers should be especially aware of what’s going on and proactive about making education and resources available.

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