How employers and plan sponsors can save the U.S. workforce from opioids

Opioid use has reached epidemic proportions over the past decade, becoming one of America’s highest-priority public health issues. With opioid abuse spiraling out of control, lawmakers, regulators, and health professionals are scrambling to better understand key drivers of this issue and develop an effective action plan. Although the devastating impact of opioids on families and communities is well known, less focus has been given to how it affects the workplace and the role that employers and health care plan sponsors can play in combating it.

Opioids’ impact on America’s workforce

Opioid use is surging across the country, leading to an increasing number of drug-related deaths. This is largely an American problem, as America consumes 75 percent of the world’s opioids supply yet makes up just five percent of the world’s population. Of the 64,000 deaths from overdose in 2016, two-thirds were related to opioid overdoses. The oversupply and abuse of legal prescription pain relievers is at the heart of this crisis.

There is a misconception that opioid-related deaths occur disproportionately among youth. However, opioid misuse and related deaths occur most frequently within the working age population — those between 25 and 54 — meaning many people are using opioids while on the job. From a safety and work-quality point of view, opioid misuse is a significant challenge to both America’s workforce and to employers at large.

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