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Note: This article is an abstract of a National Safety Council presentation. 

Opioid Addiction is a Priority Area of Concern

The National Safety Council (NSC) has identified the overprescription of opioids as a priority area of concern. Part of their focus on the problem includes considerations and actions employers can take to identify and address problems that arise from employee addiction to opioids.

Graph - deaths from opioid overdose

Economic Impact of Opioid Abuse on U.S. Businesses

Opioid addiction and opioid deaths are increasing in the US. Addiction to prescription painkillers is having a direct impact on the workforce. Here are a selection of statistics that NSC has compiled:

  1. The majority of people with substance abuse disorders work.
  2. Researchers have found decreased on-the-job productivity due to opioid misuse or dependence costs employers over $2 billion per year.
  3. Employees with an opioid use disorder miss an extra 18.5 days of work each year compared to the general workforce.
  4. There is a higher percentage of turnover with employees who have an opioid use disorder. Only 58% have had the same employer from the previous year compared to 75% of the general population.

According to NSC, a large part of the overprescription problem comes from a misunderstanding of the efficacy and addictiveness of opioid pain relievers. Many doctors prescribe opioids for longer periods that are recommended.  Seventy-four percent of doctors incorrectly believe that morphine and oxycodone are the most effective way to treat pain, while research indicates that a safer combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen may provide higher levels of relief.

Chart: Impact of prescription abuse

Addiction to opioid painkillers may be unexpected. Employees may not even know that their painkillers are opioids or that they should be worried about the possibility of addiction. They may also be unaware that sharing their prescription is illegal.   A NSC survey of 501 HR Managers indicates that 7 out of 10 have encountered employee issues resulting from prescribed painkillers. 20 percent reported illegal actions and consequences of borrowing or sharing prescription painkillers at work and arrest on or off the job.

Of  the policies and processes available to employers, training about the subject is the best option for dealing with prescription abuse in the workplace. Education and training about health and productivity issues relative to opioid pain relievers can also improve the ability of co-workers to spot warning signs of addiction. In addition, employers should have clear, written policies regarding prescription medications that prohibit the misuse or non-medical use of prescription drugs and state the steps that will be taken for noncompliance. Employers can also align policies with benefits programs, employee assistance and wellness programs, and drug testing policies.

The National Safety Council offers a Free Employer Kit that includes a guide to proactive actions employers can take, tools to update drug free workplace and employee benefit programs, fact sheets, safety talks, and posters for the workplace.  Jody Jernigan, CEO, Southeastern Chapter of the National Safety Council, will take part in a panel presentation at the 2018 GEA Spring Conference entitled Effects of Opioids in the Workplace and on Workers’ Compensation. Click the link to learn more about the Spring Conference.


Abstract of National Safety Council presentation, The Opioid Crisis: Considerations for Employers, Facilitator Guide.

The National Safety Council (NSC) is a nonprofit organization with the mission of eliminating preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities and on the road through leadership , research, education and advocacy. They are a leading source of occupational safety information and resources and publish Injury Facts, an annual compilation of statistics on unintentional deaths and injuries.