Americans are more likely to die from an accidental opioid overdose than a car crash, according to recent research from the National Safety Council. Because employers are the largest purchasers of health care in the United States (56 percent) and employees spend a significant amount of their waking hours at their jobs, businesses are in a unique position to help combat this crisis.

Understand the impact

Most employers are unaware of the direct and indirect costs associated with pain management and opioid abuse. It’s significant — according to the Centers for Disease Control, opioid abuse costs the U.S. economy nearly $56 billion each year and the American Society of Addiction Medicine estimates employers are losing an average of $10 billion annually from missed work and productivity alone. In addition, research found the overuse of opioids to address pain costs employers nearly twice as much ($19,450) in medical expenses each year than non-abusers ($10,853). 

To help employers understand the impact, the National Safety Council and non-profit Shatterproof collaborated with the University of Chicago to design a Substance Abuse Calculator for Employers. The tool offers information about the cost of substance use (prescription drug, alcohol, marijuana and illicit drug misuse, and opioid and heroin addiction) in the workplace based on employee size, industry and state.

Employers taking action

While the financial costs are considerable, the human impact of the opioid crisis cannot be overstated.

What’s an employer to do? To start, businesses should review and update policies and benefits, talk with pharmacy benefit managers, and educate workforces on opioid use and abuse. They should also take advantage of free resources such as the Midwest Business Group on Health’s employer toolkit that offers ways to build a business case, strategies for internal policies and drug testing, ideas on how to use data as a tool to impact opioid use and improve treatment of pain, and insights on what other employers are doing.

We encourage employers to play a more proactive role in combating this overwhelming epidemic and hope they will take advantage of readily available resources in doing their part.