What Employers Can Do About Opioids

Tennessee has an epidemic on its hands when it comes to prescription opioid medications. Our state ranks second for painkiller prescriptions, behind only West Virginia.

Sadly, many of the pain medications prescribed in our communities end up being misused or abused, contributing to a devastating addiction crisis and rising overdose rate.

More than 11 million Americans misused prescription opioids in 2016. Of them, 40 percent received the medications for free from someone they know.

According to the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, that figure is higher in Tennessee, where 55 percent of painkiller abusers are getting pills from a friend or relative with a valid prescription.

The opioid abuse epidemic is affecting all aspects of our community, including the workplace.

Addressing opioid misuse could lead to more productive workers, lower health care costs and an overall more positive working environment. Fortunately, the Memphis business community is mobilizing to fight this growing epidemic.

Last week, the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Regional One Health and my organization, the Society for Human Resources Management, co-hosted an event with Allied Against Opioid Abuse to share ideas and identify ways we can work together to have the greatest positive impact on our workplaces.

Allied Against Opioid Abuse is a new national initiative that is bringing together groups and individuals to find collaborative solutions to address prescription opioid abuse and misuse.

Opioids may be an appropriate therapy for some patients, but we must all work harder to avoid the unintended consequences when patients who are prescribed an opioid unwittingly fall into addiction.

This means educating and empowering patients, their family members and friends to understand the risks associated with opioids and how to handle these medicines responsibly.

By taking simple steps, like locking prescription opioids in a cabinet and promptly disposing of unused medicine, we all can help drastically reduce the oversupply of opioids, minimizing the chance of these potent pills falling into the wrong hands.

It is beyond time for members of the business community, including human resource executives and employers to come together to raise awareness, preparing for and find preventative solutions to opioid abuse in the workplace.

For me, one of the most significant outcomes of the recent forum was the feeling of empowerment among business owners, executives and HR professionals. Not only was there more they could do to help employees struggling with opioid addition, but that they could also reduce the chance of it happening in the first place.

Steps employers can take to prevent the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs include:

  • Working with health plans and pharmacy benefits managers to reduce opioid use; for example, by limiting the quantity of pills given with an initial prescription, including partial fill;
  • Making sure the company health plan covers alternative pain management therapies and addiction treatment;
  • Highlighting safe storage and disposal resources of unused prescription medications in the region; and,
  • Proactively educating employees about opioids and encouraging those who may need treatment to seek it.

These tactics are all worthwhile investments, as dealing effectively with opioid misuse can lead to a more productive workforce and lower healthcare costs.

Curtailing the opioid epidemic is going to take a group effort from medical professionals, family members, faith community leaders as well as those representing the business community, including HR professionals.

To learn more about how you can be a part of the solution, visit againstopioidabuse.org/Act/.

Verlinda Henning is president of the Society for Human Resource Management – Memphis.

This article was originally published in The Commercial Appeal.