How Prescription Drugs Impact Your Company and What You Can Do About It

How Drugs Impact Your Company and What You Can Do About ItMore than 70 percent of employers say they have felt the impact of prescription drug usage. That sobering statistic from the National Safety Council highlights the fact that, despite successful efforts by some employers and Pharmacy Benefit Managers to stem the abuse and misuse of opioids and other legal drugs among injured workers, the workplace continues reeling from the effects of legal medications.


The NSC’s survey of employers shows there are many areas where employers can take action to address the issue, and for each employee helped, employers can save more than $3,200 annually. Representatives of the NSC, United Airlines, and the Workers Compensation Research Institute will unveil the latest research on how opioids are impacting employers, and the duration of disability for injured workers, during WCRI’s upcoming annual conference.



Substance Use Disorder


‘Substance use disorder’ is the current term to describe the recurrent use of alcohol and drugs that cause clinically and functionally significant impairment, including health problems, disability and a failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school or home. The terms substance abuse and substance dependence are no longer used, according to the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.


In 2014, there were an estimated 1.9 million people with opioid use disorder related to prescription pain relievers and an estimated 586,000 with an opioid use disorder related to heroin use. There are a variety of symptoms, such as an inability to control or reduce use, continued use despite interference with major obligations or social functioning, use of larger amounts over time, development of tolerance, spending a great deal of time to obtain and use opioids, and withdrawal symptoms that occur after stopping or reducing use, such as negative mood, nausea or vomiting, muscle aches, diarrhea, fever, and insomnia.



Impact on Employers


Absenteeism is cited as the #1 impact of prescription drugs in the workplace, according to the NSC survey. Workers who have substance use disorders miss almost 50 percent more work days than their peers — up to six weeks annually.


Using pain relievers at work, having a positive drug test and being impaired or having decreased job performance were also included on the list of ways prescription drugs have impacted companies.


‘Near miss or injury’ was named by 15 percent of the respondents as a problem among prescription drug abusers. 84 percent of the employers cited concern over the costs of workers’ compensation because of prescription drug use.


Here are some additional findings from the survey:


  • 76 percent are not offering training on how to identify signs of misuse.
  • 81 percent lack a comprehensive drug-free workplace policy. Of those that do a drug test, 41 percent don’t test for synthetic opioids.
  • 19 percent feel ‘extremely prepared’ to deal with prescription drug misuse.
  • 70 percent would like to help employees return to work following appropriate treatment.
  • 88 percent are interested in insurance coverage for alternative pain treatments


The NSC conducted the survey of more than 500 HR decision makers for companies with at least 50 employees. Looking at specific industries and demographics, the Council said construction, entertainment, recreation and food service sectors have twice the national average of employees with substance use disorders.


Industries dominated by women or older adults had a two-thirds lower rate of substance abuse, and industries that have higher numbers of workers with alcohol use disorders also had more illicit drug, pain medication and marijuana use disorders


Employers were most concerned about the costs of benefits associated with substance use disorders, and their ability to hire qualified workers. They were less concerned about drug misuse and illegal drug sales or use.


The NSC also said that workers who are in recovery have lower turnover rates and are less likely to miss workdays, less likely to be hospitalized and have fewer doctor visits.


While 71 percent of employers say prescription drug misuse is a disease that requires treatment, 65 also feel it is a justifiable reason to fire an employee.



Action Steps


Healthcare costs for employees who misuse or abuse prescription drugs are three times higher than for other employees. And the annual cost of untreated substance use disorder ranges from $2,600 to as high as more than $13,000 per employee.


The good news is employers can take steps to protect their companies and employees. They include:


  1. Recognize prescription drugs impact the bottom line
  2. Enact strong company drug policies
  3. Expand drug panel testing to include opioids
  4. Train supervisors and employees to spot the first signs of drug misuse
  5. Treat substance abuse as a disease
  6. Leverage a best-in-class Pharmacy Benefits Management provider relationship




Nearly 21 million are living with substance use disorders of one type or another; more than the entire population of the state of New York. Most of those people are employed.
The problem costs the U.S. economy more than $400 billion per year. Employers can play a significant role in reducing this epidemic. In fact, employer-supported and monitored treatment yields better-sustained recovery rates than treatment initiated at the request of friends and family members.



Michael Stack - AmaxxAuthor Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%.  He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center.



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