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Opioids abuse costs employers a bundle.

Opioid abusers cost employers nearly twice as much in medical expenses as nonabusers. The national economic burden of prescription opioid overdoses, abuse, and dependence keeps rising. Of those costs, $26,100,000,000 goes to health care; $21,500,000,000 to overdose fatalities; $20,400,000,000 to lost productivity; $7,700,000,000 to criminal justice; and $2,800,000,000 to substance abuse treatment. Employers absorb a significant proportion of these costs.

A study by Castlight Health, San Francisco, Calif., found that 33% of opioid prescriptions are being abused. While only 4.5% of patients who received a prescription for narcotic painkillers are abusing them, those individuals account for 32% of total opioid prescriptions and 40% of opioid prescription spending. In addition, employers pay an average of $19,450 per year in medical costs for opioid users, compared to $10,853 for nonusers.

"Most workplace drug policies focus on deterring illicit drug use, but fewer address misuse of prescription drugs," notes Will Wesch, director of Admissions for Novus Medical Detox Center, New Port Richey, Fla. "Many employers avoid the topic out of concern for employees' privacy or the mistaken belief that legitimately prescribed medications don't pose a threat to workplace safety or productivity. However, the statistics tell another story."

A poll by the National Safety Council, Itasca, III., found that nearly half of prescription opioid users participated in potentially unsafe activities with opioids in their system: 39% went to work; 35% drove a vehicle; and 14% operated heavy machinery. Hydrocodone is found in post-accident drug tests nearly five times as often as in pre-employment tests. A study by Southern Pacific Railroad, San Francisco, Calif., showed that incidents resulting in injuries fell 71% from the year before drug testing to the year after its introduction.

"Employers need to recognize the costs and risks associated with opioid abuse, and take steps to address the prescription painkiller epidemic," asserts Wesch. He advises employers to request a free Prescription Drug Employer Kit from the National Safety Council; update workplace drug policies to include prescription medications; assess and expand (as appropriate) the scope of drug testing; collaborate with health care benefits providers and workers' compensation carriers to monitor and manage opioid prescribing and use; educate supervisors and employees about opioid-related health and safety hazards; and offer confidential support via an employee assistance program.

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Title Annotation:The Workplace
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2017
Words:391
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