Opioid Abuse Costs Employers Billions


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Painkiller abuse is a serious and growing problem for American workers, new research reveals.

A December survey conducted by the National Safety Council found that 80 percent of employers in Indiana say they’ve observed an issue with painkillers among their employees — and a whopping 60 percent say they’ve observed some kind of issue with the use of prescription painkillers at work.

More than 75 percent of employers say it’s a fireable offense, and 64 percent say it’s a bigger problem than illegal drugs.

Opioid painkillers in particular (such as oxycodone, morphine, and methadone) are a growing issue: Nearly 80 percent of employers expressed some level of concern about their abuse.

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It’s not just a problem for people in Indiana: A study published in the journal Pain Medicine found that prescription opioid abuse cost American employers more than $25 billion in 2009 — and that number is likely much higher now.

“The costs of prescription opioid abuse represent a substantial and growing economic burden for the society,” researchers write in the study. “The increasing prevalence of abuse suggests an even greater societal burden in the future.”

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Despite the risk of addiction, doctors are still commonly prescribing opioids for pain. An analysis by the Workers Compensation Research Institute found that they’re often prescribed when an employee needs workers’ compensation. From 2010 to 2012, 65 to 85 percent of injured workers with pain medication were prescribed opioids, with workers in Arkansas and Louisiana the most likely to receive prescriptions.

That may be contributing to what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls a prescription drug abuse “epidemic.”

Despite the potential cost, most employers aren’t screening for prescription painkiller abuse. Testing firm Quest Diagnostics tells NPR that only 13 percent of the 6.5 million workplace drug tests they perform screen for prescription painkillers.

According to CDC data, 44 Americans die every day from prescription opioid abuse.

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