5 ways your business can help curb the opioid epidemic
Photo by Natalie Grainger | Unsplash
The opioid epidemic has woven its insidious grip into the fabric of American society, causing profound devastation to countless lives and rippling across the broader economy.
Amid this crisis, Utah’s businesses are uniquely positioned to take a proactive stance in addressing the long-term impact of opioids on their workforce. By fully grasping the profound consequences of the problem and implementing practical measures, companies can play a pivotal role in curbing its effects and cultivating a safer, more vibrant work environment.
Unmasking the opioid crisis
The gravity of the opioid epidemic, which involves the misuse of opioids—a class of drugs including legal pain relievers like oxycodone and illicit substances such as heroin—is starkly illustrated by the shocking reality that over 100,000 individuals in the United States lost their lives to opioid overdoses in 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This devastating toll predominantly struck individuals aged 20 to 64, the very heart of the working-age population.
A report published by the United States Congress illuminated the economic ramifications of the crisis, revealing a staggering $1.5 trillion cost to the U.S. economy in 2020. This financial burden has weighed heavily on businesses, attributing losses to decreased productivity due to absenteeism and reduced e-worker efficiency. These adverse effects have rippled through workplaces, leading to a surge in workplace injuries and heightened health care utilization rates.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conducted in 2021, revealed that a staggering 16.5 percent of Americans aged 12 and above struggled with at least one substance use disorder. This eye-opening statistic shattered illusions that the opioid crisis was remote or isolated.
Addiction, a chronic disease, remains widely misunderstood, perpetuating a cycle of ignorance and stigma. This complex condition strikes at the very core of the brain’s health and functionality. The brain, once a hub of balance and harmony, is now afflicted and injured, subjected to a rewiring that centers around the consistent intake of drugs or alcohol. The result is a relentless cycle of intoxication, withdrawal and an insatiable craving that knows no bounds. It is imperative to recognize addiction as a chronic illness requiring comprehensive understanding and empathy.
"In 2022 alone, more than 16,600 individuals in the state sought treatment for substance use disorders, according to data from the Office of Substance Use and Mental Health. Of significant concern are the statistics that reveal individuals aged 25 to 34 constituting 33 percent of admissions, while those aged 35 to 44 accounted for 31 percent."
Tackling Utah’s opioid crisis
In the complex battle against substance use disorder, the nonprofit organization Comagine Health has emerged as a driving force. Collaborating with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services, the Comagine Health team has dedicated the past five years to training health care facilities and professionals throughout Utah.
“In a 2017 study, we discovered that 60 percent of individuals grappling with a pain medication use disorder are actively part of the workforce,” says Dr. Melissa Cheng, MD, MOH, MHS, FACOEM; the clinical medical director at Comagine Health.
In 2022 alone, more than 16,600 individuals in the state sought treatment for substance use disorders, according to data from the Office of Substance Use and Mental Health. Of significant concern are the statistics that reveal individuals aged 25 to 34 constituting 33 percent of admissions, while those aged 35 to 44 accounted for 31 percent.
“The opioid epidemic got worse during the COVID-19 pandemic,” emphasizes David R. Cook, MBA, CPHIMS, CPHQ, C(ASCP)™; the Utah director of systemwide quality improvement at Comagine Health. “This epidemic has compounded problems of workforce shortages, lower efficiency and poor teamwork. Equally important is its negative effect on individuals and families.”
Actionable strategies for employers
As the Utah community grapples with this crisis, businesses stand at a pivotal juncture, positioned to emerge as crucial allies steering the path toward a more resilient future. To business leaders, Comagine Health’s David Cook and Dr. Melissa Chang suggest the following:
1. Maintain a drug and alcohol-free workplace. Implementing policies like drug testing and eliminating alcohol at company parties yields notable benefits, including fewer unplanned absences, heightened productivity and a decreased likelihood of causing harm to oneself or colleagues. “From a study in 2017, we find that employers saved anywhere from $1,500 to $8,500 per worker in recovery from reduced turnover, less missed work, improved productivity and decreased health care costs,” Dr. Cheng says.
2. Ensure your company’s health insurance coverage includes services for prevention, treatment and recovery. An instrumental part of this strategy is the implementation of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that specifically addresses issues of alcohol and substance misuse.
4. Foster a supportive network. This cannot be underestimated. Addiction thrives in isolation, making it imperative to establish a nurturing environment for individuals grappling with Substance Use Disorder. By hosting programs like Alcoholics Anonymous within the workplace, a supportive atmosphere conducive to connection and recovery is created.
5. Acknowledge the need for flexibility. This involves offering options for employees seeking treatment or support, demonstrating the company’s commitment to prioritizing recovery.