When a person becomes addicted to drugs, it could cost them everything. They might lose the stability of their job, the support of their family, the comfort of their home, their health and ultimately their life.
The costs of drug addiction are exponential, as they ripple out from users to affect their families, workplaces and society at large. As employers work to protect the health of their business and provide a positive and productive environment for their employees, they must confront the potential dollars-and-cents costs of drug addiction among their workforce.
Many companies are embracing a preventive mindset by encouraging treatment among workers, as well as reporting if an employee sees something suspicious. Pre-employment and regular drug testing are other tools employers use to safeguard their businesses from the costs of addicted employees.
After all, as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The financial implications of an employee who presents a safety hazard or insurance burden is a risk most businesses can’t afford to take.
As the country’s opioid epidemic has exploded, many workplace-related research groups have turned their attention to studying and curbing the effects of employees intoxicated by prescription or illicit opioids.
In a 2017 survey of human resource professionals across the county, the National Safety Council found that more than 70% of employers have been impacted by prescription drugs. The issues they confronted included several disruptive behaviors:
Simply employing a person who is addicted to opioids costs a business more than a non-addicted worker. Employees with addiction frequently arrive late, leave early, call in sick, or “no show” at the job site. If they are present at work, they’re likely to take more frequent breaks and display erratic behavior. Also, of course, if a person is intoxicated on the job, they aren’t going to work at their maximum level of productivity. Even if the person isn’t high at work, withdrawal symptoms can cause distraction.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, opioid abuse among
employees collectively costs employers $10 billion from missed days and lost productivity.
This widely reported figure is actually from a 2011 report, and it’s clear the problem has grown dramatically since then. Consider that the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths rose five times the rate from 1999 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is one metric used to show the scope of the problem, and the problem is massive.
Employing workers who are addicted to opioids also presents serious liability concerns – for all companies. Regardless of what services or products a business provides, workers suffering from drug addiction pose a risk to themselves, coworkers, customers and members of the public.
Smaller companies could see their entire operation thrown into jeopardy by a lawsuit caused by an employee’s irresponsible behavior, while such actions at larger corporations with global reach could have devastating consequences.
What’s more, many employers aren’t confident in their ability to detect signs of potential intoxication in workers. The National Safety Council reports that 76% of the companies it surveyed do not offer training on how to identify signs of drug abuse, and a whopping 81% lack a comprehensive drug-free workplace policy. Nearly half of the companies surveyed who drug test all employees do not test for synthetic opioids.
Employees who abuse prescription drugs are two to five times more likely to take
unexcused absences, be late for work, be injured or violent at work, file workers
compensation claims, and quit or be fired within one year of employment, according to
the National Safety Council.
Opioid abusers are also costlier to cover under company health insurance, as they tend to experience more health problems and hospitalizations – even emergency care due to overdose. According to a 2016 report from Castlight Health, medical expenses for opioid abusers cost employers nearly double the amount annually compared with non-abusers. In a time when health insurance costs continue to skyrocket, employers can’t afford this additional burden.
As experts study the effects of opioid addiction on American workplaces, one interesting dynamic is coming into focus. If employers can assist their workers in getting into treatment and returning to work sober, they can actually create more loyal and productive employees.
One examination shows that employees who have recovered from addiction use less health care and take less scheduled leave than other colleagues, saving an employer about $3,200. And employers say they want to help. In the National Safety Council survey, 70% of employers said they would like to help employees return to work following appropriate treatment, and their willingness may make all the difference.
The most important place to start is with a workplace drug policy, which offers companies a thorough and transparent vehicle to monitor for and correct employee drug abuse. A comprehensive policy includes information about prohibited activity, the company’s drug-testing policy and the guidelines for discipline and return-to-work procedures. Good protocol for a drug-free workplace should also include training for employees in how to spot signs of impairment among coworkers.
Check this out! The National Council provides an online calculator that allows companies to estimate the real costs to their business due to substance abuse.