MYTHBUSTER: The Opioid Epidemic is Not Affecting My Population

We know employers and other health care purchasers have a lot on their minds. The cost of specialty pharmaceuticals seems ever increasing and the new political health care environment is distracting, along with other issues. But one of the most pressing issues that some employers may not yet have focused on is the opioid epidemic.

The epidemic can have a huge impact on an organization. According to a survey by NORC at the University of Chicago, the National Safety Council and Shatterproof, employees who misuse pain medication miss 3 times more work than their peers.  This is significant given that the cost of missed work can range from $187 to $3,941 per employee annually.  Furthermore, employees with untreated or active substance use disorders had a turnover rate of 36%, about 10% higher than the turnover rate of the general workforce.

The Survey also found that prescription drug addiction is now widespread enough that 7 in 10 employers have felt its impact.  That’s 70 percent of employers!  This is no surprise given that as of 2015,  2 million Americans are thought to be addicted to prescription opioid pain medicines.

These numbers mean that the opioid epidemic and other prescription drug addictions are likely affecting your organization. And if you are not sure how to address this, you are not alone –25% of employers don’t feel prepared to deal with prescription drug misuse. However, other employers are finding ways to start tackling this challenge.

For example, the same survey found that offering trainings about the subject was the strongest driver of feeling prepared to deal with prescription drug use in the workplace—24% of companies surveyed, trained all employees. These companies had the highest sense of preparedness and most confidence that their individual employees—rather than a trained human resources staff member—were in the best position to identify others with a drug problem.

In addition to training, more employers and health plans are considering offering alternative forms of treatment, including physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, massage, acupuncture and yoga.

The opioid epidemic is most likely affecting your population.  Now is the time to begin to address how misuse of prescription drugs may be impacting your workplace. You can start by looking into what your peers are doing to address the needs of their employees and dependents struggling with opioid addiction.

Catalyst for Payment Reform is an independent, nonprofit corporation on a mission to catalyze employers, public purchasers, and others to implement strategies that produce higher-value health care and improve the functioning of the health care marketplace.  Visit catalyze.org to learn more about the education, events, coordination, and research we provide to advance this important cause.

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