What Employers Need to Know about Opioids in the Workplace

Topics: Opioids

The numbers are startling. On average, 130 Americans die from an overdose involving opioids every day. And, between 1999 and 2017, almost 400,000 people died from an opioid overdose. It should come as no surprise, then, that the opioid epidemic can affect all aspects of the daily lives of the people it touches, from their relationships at home to their performance in the workplace.


How Opioids Affect the Workplace

worker getting prescribed opioids for workers' comp injury

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), a person is now more likely to die from an accidental opioid overdose than from a car crash. Many of these overdoses are the result of opioid medications being prescribed to individuals for everything from managing pain following a surgery to treating chronic lower back pain.



Employees who have been prescribed opioids often experience difficulties when returning to work. The CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report that opioids are a contributor to workplace injuries and decreased productivity. Plus, the NSC states that prescription painkillers can also dramatically increase workers’ compensation costs, the length of the worker’s disability and the amount of time he or she will spend out of the workplace.

When used correctly, prescription medication is an essential part of any employee healthcare plan. However, when it comes to treating work-related injuries using opioids, there could be a variety of safer treatment options to consider. In fact, research shows that many of the most common types of workplace injuries, like musculoskeletal and soft-tissue injuries, could be just as effectively treated with non-opioid alternatives like ibuprofen, acetaminophen or physical therapy.

What makes matters worse is that opioids can even increase the amount of pain an individual feels. Plus, someone on these prescription painkillers for longer than three months may not only become dependent on them, but also develop a tolerance to them as their dosage continues to increase. Thus, the vicious cycle of abuse begins.


Facing the Opioid Epidemic in the Workplace: What Employers Can Do

The NSC determined that the healthcare costs for employees who misuse or abuse prescription drugs can be three times higher than the costs for an average employee. The first step in addressing the opioid epidemic at work is to create a drug-free workplace policy, or to evaluate the current policy in place. These policies can help employers not only save money, but also keep employees safe. The NSC recommends an employer’s drug-free workplace policy should include the following elements:
  1. A clear policy written with input from human resources, employee relations and legal counsel.
  2. Ongoing education programs to stress the danger of using opioid medications in the workplace and at home, as well as the additional pain management options an employee can discuss with their medical provider.
  3. Training for supervisors to allow them to better recognize the signs of opioid abuse among employees, understand the drug-free workplace policy and the company process for drug testing.
  4. An Employee Assistance Program that provides support and access to treatment for opioid abuse.
  5. Drug testing programs that address both prescription drug abuse and non-medical drug use in the workplace, with a documented policy to define what measures will be taken in the event that drug abuse is discovered.


The Opioid Epidemic and Workers’ Compensation

Additionally, the opioid epidemic has had a major impact on the workers’ compensation space. Matt Zender, Senior Vice President overseeing AmTrust’s workers’ compensation product, said that the opioid epidemic has those in the work comp space concerned.

This is why an employer’s workers’ comp program needs to address the opioid crisis head-on to help decrease risk of abuse and the cycle of addiction. The program should be evaluated to ensure the goal is to provide the best treatment options that restore an injured worker’s overall function while, also preventing the dependency and addiction to prescription opioids.

AmTrust Financial Partners with Optum to Help Keep Employees Safe

Through our partnership with Optum Workers' Comp and Auto No-Fault, a pharmacy care management company, AmTrust helps to reduce the amount of unsafe, non-medically necessary prescriptions given to injured employees. This initiative has already prevented nearly 13,000 prescriptions that could have been deemed unsafe. Additionally, we have the resources and insight to create customized workers’ compensation coverage plans for every customer.

For more information about our small business insurance solutions, please contact us today.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.
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