Resources & Insights

What Employers Can Do to Address the Opioid Crisis

February 28, 2019

Javier Rivera,
President, Risk Management

The National Safety Council recently released its annual report on the odds of dying, and it includes one shocking statistic: People are now more likely to die from an opioid overdose than from a vehicle crash.

Given that finding, it should come as no surprise that, according to the National Business Group on Health, 80 percent of large employers are concerned to one degree or another about employees’ abuse of prescription opioids.

Employers say that, because of the national opioid crisis, they’re seeing lower productivity, higher health care costs and fewer qualified applicants.

What’s more, employers struggling to deal with these complex issues also have to worry about their workers’ privacy, including protection of personal medical information and the possible violation of the confidential doctor-patient relationship.

It’s a lot for any employer to handle – and, in fact, few feel confident they can. So, what’s an employer to do? How best to respond?

What follows are four tips developed by the Safety Council:

  1. Establish a clear, written policy.

Good policy has never been more important. Among other points you’ll want to make, make sure you spell out that it is the employee’s responsibility to use appropriate personnel procedures (e.g., call in sick, use leave, request change of duty, notify supervisor, notify company doctor) to avoid unsafe workplace practices.

Get your legal folks involved to be sure your policy includes protections for risk management, injury prevention and liability.

  1. Be informed at the point a prescription is issued.

The prescriber-patient relationship is a con­fidential one. However, make sure your employees are encouraged to discuss their concerns about taking an opioid painkiller as soon as a physician recommends it. Employees then should work with their doctor to determine if a non-opioid prescription can be used.

Research shows that for types of pain related to common workplace-related injuries, including soft-tissue injuries and musculoskeletal problems, opioids are not any more effective than non-opioid alternatives such as Tylenol, Advil or generic ibuprofen.

  1. Provide management training.

With the changes in drug use over the past several years, it’s important for managers to be current on their workplace policy for prescription drug use, including understanding potential signs of impairment.

The law protects an employee’s use of over-the-counter or prescription drugs to treat a disability. But prescription drug abuse is considered illegal drug use. Employers may test employees for such abuse based on a reasonable suspicion.

  1. Establish an Employee Assistance Program and make sure to promote it.

Seventy percent of all U.S. companies purchase Employee Assistance Programs because they understand that EAPs improve their bottom line. Yet few employees use them. Many employees don’t understand the value or may fear negative rami­fications if they seek help. Employee education on a company’s EAP services needs to clearly state who an employee may talk to, how they can communicate with that resource and in what setting. Managers and supervisors are key to the promotion of EAP services both initially and in an ongoing way.

There’s more on this, as you might imagine, which is why we suggest working closely with your broker, benefi­ts providers and workers’ compensation carriers.

Turning a blind eye, by the way, is really no longer an option. Consider what Ken Kolosh, manager of statistics at the Safety Council, told the news media:

“Human beings, we just are not good at estimating our own risk. We tend to fixate or focus on the rare, startling event, like a plane crash or a major flood or a natural disaster, but in reality, when you look at the numbers, the everyday risks that we face and have become so accustomed to form a much greater hazard.”

Javier Rivera is President of CCIG’s Risk Management department. Reach him at or at 720-330-7941.

CCIG is a Denver-area insurance brokerage with the full-service capabilities of a national brokerage. We do more than make sure you have the right policy. We also help you manage your long-term cost of risk with our risk and claims management expertise and a commitment to service excellence.

Related: 9 Ways to Lower Your Prescription Drug Costs

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