CDC: Largest Annual Increase in Drug Overdoses in 50 Years

Provisional drug overdose data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that the United States experienced the largest annual increase in deaths reported from overdoses in at least 50 years. If you think workplaces are not impacted by this staggering increase, think again.

Nearly 21 million Americans are living with a substance use disorder (SUD), and 70 percent of them are employed, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). It’s likely that almost every workplace employees one or more employees who are living with a SUD or who are in recovery.

Employers spend an average of $8,817 annually on each employee with an untreated SUD, according to research gathered by NSC and NORC at the University of Chicago. However, each employee who successfully recovers from an SUD can save their employer as much as $8,500, due to utilizing less health care services, missing fewer workdays related to illness or injury and experiencing less turnover. This is according to the NSC substance use cost calculator, which helps business leaders understand the cost of substance use (including prescription drug use and misuse, alcohol use and misuse, opioid and heroin addiction, as well as use of other illicit drugs and cannabis).

In addition, the analysis shows that workers in recovery miss 13.7 fewer days each year than workers with an untreated SUD, and 3.6 less days than an average employee.

Employers Can Make a Difference in the Lives of Substance Users

Research indicates that employer-initiated treatment is more successful than treatment initiated by friends or family members. This offers employers an enormous opportunity and responsibility to help workers with the disease of addiction and keep workplaces safe.

To combat this crisis that has spilled over into the workplace, employers need resources, support and training. NSC recommends employers regard substance use disorders as a medical condition that can and should be treated while also ensuring evidence-based treatment mechanisms are covered by employer health care plans. NSC has free resources available to help business leaders:

  • Recognize the impact of impairment on the bottom line.
  • Educate and engage their workforce about impairment. 
  • Train supervisors and employees to recognize and respond to impairment in the workplace.

Impairment Impacts Safety

Over 90 percent of employers are concerned about opioids, alcohol, mental health disorders and chronic stress in their workplaces, according to a recent NSC employer survey. More than half of these employers said impairment is decreasing the safety of their workforce.

Not surprisingly, impaired employees pose a safety hazard to themselves, their co-workers and their work environment. Safety-sensitive industries, in particular, have been hit hard by the opioid crisis – including construction, transportation and material moving occupations, and other industries that are prone to higher rates of workplace injury.

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