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Opioid Epidemic and the Workplace

During the 2016-2017 reporting period, more than 50,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. To put that in context, there were 38,000 deaths by gun violence in the US in 2016 and 58,220 US soldiers died during the entire Vietnam War. Fighting the opioid epidemic has become a major priority of the federal and many state governments.

The opioid epidemic is affecting the workplace, too. Overdoses from the non-medical use of drugs or alcohol while on the job increased 32% during 2016, with much of the increase attributed to opioid abuse. Opioid abuse is estimated to cost US employers more than $18 billion a year in lost productivity and medical expenses. At the same time, employers pay for about one-third of all opioid prescriptions that end up being abused through their health insurance and workers' compensation benefits.

Employees who work under the influence can pose a safety risk to themselves or others; may be more likely to engage in illegal or unprofessional conduct on the job; and generally are less productive than employees who are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol while at work. Employers can take the following steps to both prevent drug use and drug-related problems at their workplace and help employees who are suffering from addiction.

1. Have a Drug- and Alcohol-Free Workplace Policy