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Opioid Awareness

Addressing Opioids in the Workplace

Rachael Cooper

Senior Program Manager for Substance Use Harm Prevention, National Safety Council

The National Safety Council has made new resources available to employers looking to address the opioid crisis after a survey released by the organization earlier this year indicated few feel confident they are able to address the issue.

According to the survey, 75 percent of U.S. employers have been directly affected by opioids, but – startlingly – only 17 percent feel extremely well prepared to deal with the matter.

In fact, 38 percent of those surveyed said they have experienced absenteeism or impaired worker performance because of employee opioid use, while 31 percent have had an overdose, arrest or near-miss.

Employers also indicated they are more concerned about hiring qualified workers, employee benefit costs and worker compensation costs than they are about employee use of legal prescription opioids or illicit use/sale of opioids. However, opioid misuse – legal or illicit – can impact all other issues employers cited as more concerning.

An outline for employers

In an effort to assist employers who want to address opioids in the workplace, the Council has made available its new Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit.

The free toolkit has a focus on safety and includes information and resources for four specific groups found in a typical workplace setting: supervisors, HR professionals, safety professionals and employees. In addition, it includes a section comprised of introductory, level-setting materials on the opioid crisis, prevention, treatment and recovery.

Starting the conversation

For example, the “Opioids and the Workplace” document included in the toolkit is helpful for those who have just been introduced to the topic. It provides background information about the opioid crisis, as well as details about prescription opioids, heroin, fentanyl, chronic pain, acute pain, treatment and recovery. It also defines relevant terms, outlines how the issue impacts employers on both the business side and safety side, and details key steps employers can take to address the issue.

Other materials in the toolkit include a sample policy for HR professionals to use when updating or creating a drug-free workplace policy; a document on impairment, safety and opioids for safety professionals; a paper on communicating with employees about opioids for supervisors; and a video about how drugs affect the brain as an educational tool for employees.

Just the beginning

The toolkit has more than two dozen resources, all of which can be found at

It is a great complement to existing Council resources, such as its Substance Use Cost Calculator for Employers, which can be used to assess the financial impact of this issue on an individual workplace.

More than 75 percent of people living with a substance use disorder are in the workforce – and more than 10 percent of Americans live in recovery. Research indicates that individuals struggling with substance use disorders have better sustained recovery rates if treatment is initiated and monitored by their employer, than if that treatment is initiated by friends or family.

Take the time to explore our toolkit today. Employers can help protect their bottom line, the safety of their workplace and help save lives when they use NSC’s Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit.

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