How Can HR Approach Opioid Addiction in the Workplace?

How Can HR Approach Opioid Addiction in the Workplace?

You just finished watching another concerning segment on the news about the severity of the opioid crisis in our country. Perhaps you feel the lingering sting of a personal loss. Maybe you take a sigh of relief that opioid devastation has not yet impacted your immediate family. Either way, you feel a heaviness and sense of responsibility as an HR professional. Are we doing all that we can?

You go through the list of the obvious…we have an EAP in place – check. We implemented the limits on opioid prescriptions recommended by our insurance provider – check. We trained our leaders on how to identify the signs of opioid abuse – check.

I commend organizations that have done the basic blocking and tackling related to drug addiction. But even with the basics in place, it appears that most organizations are not prepared to take this on.  71% of U.S. employers say they have been affected in some way by employee misuse of legally prescribed medications, including opioids, according to a recent 2017 survey.  Yet, only 19% of employers feel “extremely prepared” to deal with prescription drug misuse in the workplace, according to a study hightled by SHRM.

“As HR professionals we must be well prepared for when the opioid epidemic arises in the workplace – and it will – if it hasn’t already,” shares Lynn Carfora, an Inspire HR Consultant. “This new crisis requires a proactive approach and stronger tools in the HR toolkit.”

As I speak with clients about their next steps, I encourage them to start by taking a deeper look at what is already in place and to really turn up the value of existing, but possibly underleveraged resources:

1) Call it out.

While drug abuse has a history as a “shameful secret,” it has become a costly issue for companies and needs to be raised before it can be addressed and remedied. You might have the right programs in place, but Inspire is talking more with clients about ensuring an open culture that is truly prepared to acknowledge the impact of addiction. With confidentiality and professionalism, leaders can send a powerful message to employees that there are safe and available resources for those who have been affected.

2) Unleash the value of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

You may have worked really hard to pick a top-notch EAP vendor, but are your employees getting the good word?

  • An estimated 97 % of companies with more than 5,000 employees have an EAP.  Yet, no more than 5% of people with access to EAPs use them.
  • Up to 40% of workers are unaware of whether their workplace provides EAP and what services are available, according to the American Psychiatry Association.

According to Inspire’s consultant, Lynn Carfora, “Workplace education for employees and supervisors will be imperative, as well as an integrated EAP program that makes access to a range of support resources easily accessible.  A well-equipped EAP can act as a confidential safety net and guide when needed the most.
As you begin to create a more open culture around drug abuse and addiction, it becomes much more natural to communicate the benefits of your EAP’s. Given the acute nature of this crisis, we encourage our clients not to be vague about general “wellness” programs, but to truly call out the immediate need to support employees impacted by the current opioid crisis.

3) Cast a wide net of support.

Some industries, such as construction and restaurants, have been hit hardest by the opioid crisis. That said, I always remind clients in other industries not to overlook the indirect impact of this crisis.

“Even if employees themselves are not using opioids, their lives may be affected by loved ones who are. This can indirectly affect their job performance and contribute to the overall crisis,” according to PK Benefits Consulting.

Communicate clearly and directly about resources available to the caretakers, parents, spouses and loved ones of someone suffering from drug abuse. These employees are likely to be experiencing a rollercoaster of anxiety and grief that EAP services are uniquely designed to address, including emotional support and access to critical resources.

The collective power of HR.

When I consider the widespread devastation caused by opioid abuse, I begin to contemplate how powerful the collective HR community can be in addressing this issue. Together, as HR professionals, we are a wide-reaching community with tremendous potential to identify, educate, influence and support those suffering from the effects of drug misuse. By merely fine tuning and better promoting existing resources, we have the potential to save lives. I am inspired by the ability we have to make a difference, and I hope you will join me in encouraging other HR professionals to do the same.   To learn more about how Inspire HR can help your organization create a proactive approach to the opioid epidemic, contact me at [email protected] or (917) 612-8571.