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Americans struggling with opioid addiction miss nearly 50 per cent more work

Businesses that do not address the prescription drug crisis have their 'head in the sand'
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prescription drugs

Workers with substance use disorders miss nearly 50 per cent more days than their peers, and up to six weeks of work annually, according to an analysis from the National Safety Council, NORC at the University of Chicago and Shatterproof. Despite the alarming new statistics, there is a persistent gap between employer perceptions of impact and the actual human and business costs of substance use. A new survey from the National Safety Council found that only 39 per cent of employers view prescription drug use as a threat to safety, and only 24 per cent feel it is a problem, despite 71 per cent saying they have experienced an issue.

In response to alarming data, and to help employers understand the need to act quickly, Shatterproof, NSC and NORC have created the Substance Use Cost Calculator, which employers can use to quickly compute what the crisis means to their workforce. 

The analysis determined construction, entertainment, recreation and food service businesses have twice the national average number of employees with substance use disorders. Industries dominated by women or older adults have a two-thirds lower rate of substance abuse, while industries that have higher numbers of workers with alcohol use disorders also have more illicit drug, pain medication and marijuana use disorders.

Employers are most concerned about the costs of benefits (95 per cent), the ability to hire qualified workers (93 per cent) and the costs of worker’s compensation (84 per cent). Drug misuse impacts all of those concerns, but prescription drug misuse and illegal drug sale or use were much lower concerns (67 per cent and 61 per cent). 

The cost of untreated substance use disorder ranges from US$2,600 per employee in agriculture to more than US$13,000 per employee in the information and communications sector.

The survey found workers in recovery have lower turnover rates and are less likely to miss work days, less likely to be hospitalized and have fewer doctors visits. Health-care costs for employees who misuse or abuse prescription drugs are three times the costs for an average employee.

“Businesses that do not address the prescription drug crisis are like ostriches sticking their head in the sand,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “The problem exists and doing nothing will harm your employees and your business. As the tool shows, the cost of inaction is far too great.”

Addictions, also known as substance use disorders, cost taxpayers more than US$440 billion annually. Businesses are particularly affected, as substance use disorders lead to employee absenteeism, increased health-care costs and lower productivity. Seventy-five per cent of adults struggling with a substance use disorder are in the workforce, although adults with substance use disorders are about twice as likely to be unemployed, according to the analysis.

Getting an employee into treatment — which an employee is more likely to undergo if it is initiated by an employer — can save an employer up to US$2,607 per worker annually.

The Substance Use Cost Calculator allows businesses to input basic statistics about their workforce such as industry, location and number of employees. The results show estimated prevalence of substance use disorders among employees and dependents, associated costs and potential savings if employees and their family members treat substance use disorders.

“This is a wakeup call for businesses. When it comes to addiction’s cost in the workplace, the numbers are staggering,” said Gary Mendell, founder and CEO of Shatterproof, a non-profit organization for additions support. “Knowing what I do about substance use disorder as well as about running a business as the former CEO of HEI hotel and resorts, I see the extraordinary impact this tool will have. It will save lives and save money. It will also help address the stigma that may keep employees from coming forward and seeking help when they need it.”

Developed through scientific analysis, the Substance Use Cost Calculator provides the individual costs of alcohol, prescription pain medication, marijuana and illicit drug use, and is broken down by industry and number of employees.  

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