Opioids are a growing concern in the U.S. – 2 in 3 human resources professionals say their workplace has been or will be impacted by prescription drug abuse. In order to resist against the rising threat of prescription drug abuse we need to fully understand opioids.

Opioids are powerful pain-relieving drugs with extremely addictive properties and fall into 4 main categories: natural, such as morphine, semi-synthetic, such as hydrocodone, synthetic, such as Tramadol, and illegal, such as heroin. Euphoria-inducing properties can offer a respite from physical and/or mental pain. Nearly 50% of all substance abusers suffer from a mental health condition.

In 2017, the CDC announced that opioid use had reached epidemic levels – when did the crisis begin? From 2016 to 2017 about 12 million Americans misused prescription pain medicine. A floodgate to addiction and illegal drugs has recently opened due to the ease of access to prescription drugs.

Heroin overdoses in the year 2017 have shot up more than 7 times more than what they were 1999. The fatal effects of opioid misuse and the deaths related to opioids have surged nearly 450% since 2001.

In the 1990’s, opioids were increasingly prescribed for general or chronic pain treatment. Pharmaceutical companies assured doctors that prescription opioids were safe. Direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceutical drugs was deregulated. Consequently, the risk of addiction and misuse of prescription drugs were not widely understood and was allowed to run rampant.

Opioids in the workplace cause a lot of damage in a lot of different ways. On average, employees miss 10 and a half workdays per year, but substance abusers miss anywhere from 14.8 days of missed work to a staggering 29 missed workdays.

There are also more accidents related to opioids compared to an average worker. 86% of employers believe opioid abuse impairs workers’ performance, 39% of people think prescription drug abuse compromises safety in the workplace, and 31% of substance abusers have experienced an overdose, arrest, and/or injury.

Employers and coworkers either aren’t trained or aren’t mentally prepared for a prescription drug abusive coworker. 76% of human resources professionals can’t recognize classic signs of prescription drug abuse. 64% of workers aren’t trained at all or well enough to help coworkers battling an addiction.

71% of employers think addiction should be treated as a health condition. 1 out of every 4 employers are extremely unprepared to confront a prescription drug abuser in their workplace. What can be done to turn back on this catastrophic – and rising – trend? The National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH) has laid groundwork for confronting opioid use by workers in the workplace.

The steps the NIOSH has taken include: identifying areas where further education on the subject is needed for those in that area, determine what, if any, risk factors exist in the workplace for substance abusers themselves and their coworkers, to detect the existence of opioid use among workers, and to provide protective measures for those affected. Find out how employers can help people break the cycle of addiction below.

Opioids in the Workplace