Employers weigh in on illicit opioid use at work

Companies continue to face complex issues surrounding drugs and the workplace. Our nation’s far-reaching opioid epidemic does not exclude employees or the work environment. The medical community, government and health agencies, policymakers, and safety organizations continue to gather data and resources about the risks of opioids in an effort to support employers with real-world strategies.

The National Safety Council (NSC) is one of many organizations that identify prescription opioid misuse as an important safety topic for the American workforce. In 2019, the NSC commissioned the National Employer Survey to poll more than 500 U.S. employers about how they approach opioid use in the workplace. All survey respondents make decisions about workplace drug and alcohol programs. The methodology defined illicit opioid use as any non-prescribed opioid use such as taking pills prescribed to someone else or using illegal forms of opioids such as heroin.

A majority of the respondents (86%) said that opioids, even taken as prescribed, impact job performance, but only half (50%) of respondents are confident about their company’s substance abuse policies and procedures. Other key findings include

  • 75% of employers have been directly affected by opioids
  • 38% of employers have experienced absenteeism or impaired worker performance
  • One-third (31%) of employers have experienced an overdose, arrest, or a near-miss/injury
  • 60% of companies have policies that require employees to notify their employer when they are using a prescription opioid
  • 49% of employers respond to misuse of illicit opioids by dismissing the employee, while 25% return the employee to the job after treatment

This survey highlights how some employers are handling the prescription drug crisis and the support still needed to deal with opioid-related issues at work.

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