The National Safety Council is greatly disappointed by the latest provisional drug overdose data released by the CDC. Last year marks the largest annual increase in deaths reported from overdoses in at least 50 years, with nearly three-quarters of fatal overdoses attributed to opioids. Opioids are the cause of the single worst drug overdose crisis in U.S. history, and the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated this epidemic. Further, nearly 21 million Americans are living with a substance use disorder (SUD), and 70% of them are employed.
Employers have an enormous opportunity and responsibility to help workers with the disease of addiction and keep workplaces safe. Employers need resources, support and training to combat this crisis. NSC recommends employers regard substance use disorders as a medical condition that can and should be treated while also ensuring evidence-based treatment mechanisms are covered by employer health care plans. NSC has free resources available to help business leaders to:
- Recognize the impact of impairment on the bottom line.
- Educate and engage their workforce about impairment.
- Train supervisors and employees to recognize and respond to impairment in the workplace.
Over 90% of employers are concerned about opioids, alcohol, mental health disorders and chronic stress in their workplaces, according to a recent NSC employer survey. More than half of these employers said impairment is decreasing the safety of their workforce. Impaired employees pose a safety hazard to themselves, their co-workers and their work environment. Safety sensitive industries, in particular, have been hit hard by the opioid crisis – including construction, transportation and material moving occupations, and other industries that are prone to higher rates of workplace injury.
Employers spend an average of $8,817 annually on each employee with an untreated SUD, according to research gathered by NSC and NORC at the University of Chicago. Encouragingly, each employee who recovers from a SUD saves a company over $8,500 on average due to utilizing less health care services, missing fewer work days due to illness or injury and experiencing less turnover. This is according to the NSC substance use cost calculator, which helps business leaders understand the cost of substance use (including prescription drug use and misuse, alcohol use and misuse, opioid and heroin addiction, as well as use of other illicit drugs and cannabis).
Employers alone cannot solve this issue. We also need leadership to address this issue head on. We call for the confirmation of an Office of National Drug Control Policy leader as soon as possible. We cannot forget the more than 90,000 lives that have potentially been lost from preventable overdoses. NSC is committed to partnering with both the public and private sector to take action, because lives depend on it.