Viewpoint: Yes, the opioid crisis affects you and your business.

Tampa Bay Business Journal. By Mary Lynn Ulrey, CEO, DACCO Behavioral Health

October 27, 2017

Research quoted by The Council on Alcohol and Drugs indicates that nearly 77 percent of illegal drug users are employed in full- and part-time jobs. That means unhealthy employees, unsafe working conditions, loss of productivity, smaller profits, more accidents, higher medical claims expenses and other negative effects for employers and employees. But the impact is not limited to employees’ substance misuse. Twenty¬≠-six percent of employed adults say there is substance abuse or addiction within their family and 42 percent of them have been distracted or less productive at work because of it.

As often as we hear about the opioid crisis, we may still think it doesn’t affect us directly. But is that really the case? Let’s consider what may be happening to your business, community, family and circle of friends.

The community suffers

First-time felony offenders aren’t just the indigent. This group includes individuals who held steady jobs with annual salaries between $40,000 and $50,000. We don’t hear more about these and other non-indigent people with substance disorders because they may seek treatment outside the Tampa Bay area, thinking (inaccurately) that local treatment options are only for the indigent.

Families and friends are affected, often for generations to come. Children whose arrest sticks, even for a misdemeanor drug charge, lose eligibility for a Bright Futures Scholarship unless they attend a state-contracted, one-year treatment program. Family dynamics also change dramatically due to substance misuse, impacting workplace performance of other family members.

How did we get here?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said substance abuse treatment programs typically reported that 50 to 75 percent of their clients had co-occurring disorders. Few business owners realize that substance misuse and mental illness are co-occurring disorders.

Consider these background points that may be impacting your employees:

  • Most Americans believe prescription drugs are safe. However, that’s only if they are taken correctly, by the person for whom they are prescribed and without the possibility of access by others. Enough opiate pain reliever prescriptions were written last year for every American adult to have one bottle.
  • Employees with physical ailments like heart disease, diabetes or cancer seek and receive treatment, but those with substance or mental health problems may feel ashamed or confused about seeking treatment. Substance misuse is often deemed a moral failure, rather than an illness.
  • Employees may be afraid to use their health insurance for assessment and treatment, fearing employers will find out and they will lose their job.
  • Primary care physicians don’t routinely perform drug screens, even when the patient exhibits certain symptoms.
  • Individuals often don’t know where to turn for assessment or treatment, nor whom to ask for that information.
  • Pregnant women may be afraid of losing their baby, being reported to police, or both.

What should employers do?

According to the Council on Alcohol and Drugs, small and medium-sized firms – the backbone of the Tampa Bay economy – employ 80 percent of the U.S. workforce. However, these companies typically don’t have drug policies and programs in place. The absenteeism, increased health care costs and decreased productivity due to alcohol and substance misuse may cost them up to $1,000 per employee per year. There are a number of positive solutions for local business owners and employers:

  • Create a drug-free workplace, including written policies, access to assistance, employee education, supervisory training and drug testing.
  • Ensure that your HR department knows how to identify addiction or substance misuse and can provide training for managers, supervisors and employees; including how to identify problems in family members. If your company isn’t a drug¬≠free workplace, ask a local organization to speak to your employees about substance misuse and treatment options.
  • Leaders and supervisors should refer employees for assessment and/or treatment if employees show signs of substance misuse. Look for national accreditation and quality outcomes in consideration of such a partner.
  • Insist that your employee health plan for mental health and addiction disorders has parity with other medical diseases so your employees have options for treatment.

New medication-assisted treatment options are now available in addition to methadone. As difficult an issue as this is, it’s one that no business owner or manager should ignore, either on a business or personal level. Whether out of concern for employee welfare, business operations, community stability, family safety or a combination of all of these, ignoring the issue will only lead to negative consequences for all concerned.

Mary Lynn Ulrey is CEO of DACCO Behavioral Health in Tampa, a nationally accredited treatment organization that has served the community for more than 45 years. She can be reached at marylynnu@dacco.org.