Business: The beginning and end of the opioid crisis

Employers play an extremely significant role in reversing this problem across the nation

A little over a year ago, the March 5, 2018, edition of TIME magazine was the first issue in their 95-year history entirely devoted to one topic. That topic was the opioid crisis. According to this TIME report, it is the worst addiction epidemic in US history. “In 2016 alone nearly 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses – roughly as many as were lost in the entire Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.”

It’s a tough topic to think about. Opioid overdoses now claim more lives than car accidents each year. And if you are not personally affected, the stats can still feel far removed from everyday life. But given the staggering proportions of this ongoing crisis, it is likely that many of us have employees or co-workers caught in this terrible struggle.

Earlier this year the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) held a webinar on the opioid crisis that explained the basics of the problem and outlined resources available to our members (nahb.org/opioids). With partners Job-Site Safety Institute and Advocates for Human Potential, NAHB has developed resources to expand on what government and health care are doing to create “a proactive approach to this crisis with knowledge and without stigma.”

NAHB’s program is called Making It Your Business. Because, unfortunately, it is our business. The construction sector experiences the highest amount of drug/opioid involved overdose deaths, followed by extraction workers, food preparation/serving, health care practitioners, health care support and personal care/service (CDC, Aug. 2018).

As noted in NAHB’s opioid information, the impact on businesses can be significant, including loss of productivity and increased healthcare expenses. Employees in the grip of substance abuse miss almost 50 percent more time at work compared to peers. In these situations, turn-over is high and employee morale is low.

The connecting force across industry sectors, age, demographics, race and gender? Chronic pain. Most people who died of an opioid overdose were diagnosed with chronic pain within a year of their death. Another shared gateway – most people addicted to opioids began taking prescription opioids, usually prescribed after an injury. According to NAHB’s data, research shows more than half of people who died as a result of overdose had at least one job-related injury.

Addressing the disease of substance abuse in the workplace can seem overwhelming. In their 2017 report “How the Prescription Drug Crisis is Impacting American Employers,” the National Safety Council (NSC) found that fewer than two in 10 employers felt they were “extremely prepared” to deal with prescription drug misuse.

But employers play an extremely significant role in reversing this problem across the nation. The NSC also found that employer supported and monitored treatment yields better sustained recovery rates than treatment initiated at the request of friends and family members. Let that sink in. Employers who take action here will make a life-changing (make that life-saving!) impact for troubled employees. Which helps families. Which strengthens every facet of our communities.

As NAHB points out: “We have the opportunity at almost every point on a worker’s journey to help them. Whether that be through prevention and immediate action, through treatment when substance use has already occurred, or finally through recovery, when addiction is in the process of being overcome.”

Recently the NSC also issued a workplace focused report to inform businesses about the current evidence surrounding opioid medications and their impact. Their goal is to create a “call to action” that enables businesses of any size to partner effectively with benefit providers; assess current workplace policies and scope of drug testing; prioritize essential education efforts; and improve access to confidential help for employees.

I encourage you to search “NSC the proactive role employers can take” to locate and review the full report.

In this report they identify five key factors for an effective drug-free workplace program that will help employers save money and keep their employees safe: A clear, written policy; employee education; supervisor training; an employee assistance program; and drug testing.

Here in Clark County, 39 people die every year due to fatal overdose from opioids (24 from prescriptions). Statewide we lost 439 people to prescription opioid overdose. These figures have doubled since 2000. Even more alarming (if that is possible given the scope of this issue) is that at least 14 percent of high school students took a prescription opioid “just for fun” in 2017.

As business leaders we make up the backbone of this community. It will take a spine of steel to reverse the addiction that has gripped many of our workers. We have to do this. For the health and success of our current employees, for the bottom line and to create a future that holds promise for our young people.

Avaly Scarpelli is the executive director of the Building Industry Association of Clark County. She can be reached at avaly@biaofclarkcounty.org

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