Combatting the Opioid Epidemic in Your Workplace
February 19, 2019
Each day in the United States, over 130 people die from overdosing on opioids. Opioid misuse and addiction have gained recognition as a national crisis negatively affecting public health and economic welfare. The U.S. spends an estimated $78.5 billion annually on this crisis, taking into consideration costs for health care, lost productivity, treatment services, and criminal justice.
As the severity of opioid misuse continues to surge, it’s important for employers to be cognizant of how the opioid crisis is affecting their employee populations. After all, nearly 40% of those experiencing opioid addiction are covered by private insurance, and the cost of treatment is increasing.
What can employers do? Instead of solely relying on state or federal regulatory interventions to lead the way, there are many intermediary steps employers can take to address opioid misuse in their population and to provide treatment assistance for their employees and dependents.
A first step is education. Educate employees on the risks associated with opioids, how to responsibly use opioids, alternative solutions to managing pain, and the resources available to help manage misuse, addiction, or overdose for themselves or their loved ones. Because a majority of employer spending related to opioid addiction and treatment is for employee dependents rather than the employee themselves, this education can help employees more carefully monitor opioids at home and respond to situations that may arise with loved ones.
From a benefit design perspective, employers can also take initiative to enhance access to substance use treatments for their employee population and towards developing a formulary with effective prescription medications. Employers can collaborate with health plans and pharmacy benefit managers to create pharmacy lock-in programs, to develop utilization management tools, to cover Medication- Assisted Treatment (MAT), and to wisely use their data to identify subsets of their population that may be at greater risk, among many other potential solutions. Addiction rates vary by industry. In physically demanding jobs, those where employees are frequently lifting and standing, employees tend to have higher rates of opioid misuse. This includes the construction, automobile, manufacturing, carpentry and trucking industries.
Ultimately addressing this crisis will require all hands on deck, including active collaboration between employers, health plans, providers pharmacy benefit managers, pharmacies, and employees. CPR already has several resources available for employers and other health care purchasers to better understand the impact of the opioid epidemic on the workforce and possible innovative strategies to implement and we’ll soon be releasing a How-To guide focused on tackling substance use disorders (SUD)- diving into current challenges and potential solutions in the substance use disorder space.