The opioid epidemic has had a wide-ranging impact on U.S. workers, but employers who support recovery can help, states a new policy report.
The University of Southern California-Brookings Schaefer Initiative for Health Policy’s research on the impact of the nation’s opioid epidemic – published April 17 – identifies the consequences to the labor supply, ranging from increased absenteeism and workplace incidents to withdrawal from the workforce because of disability, incarceration or death.
Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said during an April 18 fireside chat that 46 million Americans (about 15% of the adult population) have a substance abuse disorder, yet fewer than 1 in 10 seek treatment.
Since before the COVID-19 pandemic, Gupta said 26% of workforce loss has been attributed to the opioid crisis. “That’s a lot of people of working age being lost to businesses.”
A major reason workers often don’t seek treatment? An “I don’t want to lose my job” or “it’s going to interfere with my job” mindset, Gupta said.
His solution: Employers who destigmatize opioid addiction and build recovery-friendly workplaces. “The first thing that has to happen is the employers need to have a conversation in a way that is safe and where the employees feel comfortable sharing their own stories.”
For workers in recovery, the ability to become leaders within their organization and help others is an important step in building culture, along with allowing workers to self-identify when they need assistance.
“It becomes a harmonized approach to a work environment, where people feel you and they are part of the same work family,” Gupta said.
Other benefits of recovery-friendly workplaces include reduced workplace injuries and costs, along with increased production. Workplaces that allow employees to help each other through recovery often create a network of recovery champions, Gupta noted.
“Peer recovery is a very strong network,” he said. “You’ll get some of the most dedicated employees you’ll ever see.”