Human Resources News & Insights

Opioid epidemic in the workplace: Is Congress’s ambitious new legislation the answer?

Employers everywhere are struggling to handle the opioid crisis and its impact on the workplace, so Congress is looking to step in. 

A new bill, H.R. 5892, has been introduced in the House.

It aims to establish an advisory committee to guide the Secretary of Labor on ways to reduced and address opioid abuse in the workplace.

The committee would include a 19-member group made up of:

  • employers
  • employees and employee reps
  • workplace safety experts
  • HR pros
  • doctors, therapists, academic researchers and
  • state and local officials.

Only 19% of firms feel prepared

Chances are the majority of employers would welcome this, as only 19% of firms said they feel extremely prepared to deal with the opioid epidemic in their workplace.

Plus, seven out of 10 employers have had to deal with the effects of employees’ prescription drug abuse, according to a National Safety Council study.

And those effects run the gamut from absenteeism and selling prescriptions at work, and impaired or decreased performance and overdoses.

While it may seem like there’s little employers can do to prevent issues in this area, that’s not the case.

Painkiller alternatives

CFOs can work with insurers to make sure addictive prescription drugs aren’t the go-to option for every injury or ailment.

How? By giving workers access to insurer-covered alternative therapies.

Alternative therapies – such as acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, hypnosis, etc. – are attempted before addictive prescription drugs are brought into the equation.

Despite plenty of interest, employers seem to be balking at actually giving this option a shot. In fact, even though 88% of firms were interested in their insurer covering alternative treatments, just 30% planned on actually negotiating on that expanded coverage option.

Employers should also review insurance policies and EAP contracts to make sure employees are covered for prescription drug abuse.

3 key safeguards

For many employers, the opioid epidemic also makes it necessary to update key policies. The National Safety Council recommends the following:

Create a drug-free workplace program (DFWP). This states what workers must do if they are prescribed meds that may cause impairment.

Test for prescriptions. Working with an attorney, employers can test for drugs that are legally prescribed and commonly abused.

Spell out what happens when abuse occurs. This should include how the abuse is identified, employees’ options (leave, etc.) and how a return works.

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