Creating a culture andenvironment that promotes the health and well-being of employeesand a company that cares increases the likelihood of employeesreceiving intervention. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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It's no surprise that with more than two million Americanssuffering from opioid addiction, employers are feeling the effect. In fact, according to asurvey by the National Safety Council, 70percent of employers report their workplace has been impacted byopioids.

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With alarming statistics like these, the spotlight on theemployer to address addiction in the workplace is now growingbrighter. Employers are uniquely positioned to play an active rolein solving the problem. Through their resources and benefit plans,employers have the potential to improve the livelihood of employeesand their families, as well as the environment workers are exposedto for most of their waking hours. Employers who are self-fundedalso have direct control over coverage for opioids as well asalternative treatment.

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Related: The best way for employers to help end the opioidcrisis

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So, what is the most effective strategy for employers instopping the opioid crisis and what can they do to help employeesstruggling with addiction?

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First, the fundamentals should be in place. Appropriatelimitations on coverage of opioids in tandem with coverage ofalternative pain therapy is a given. Covering treatment foraddiction as well as support for family members of those sufferingfrom addiction is fundamental. Most employers (77 percent,according to the 2016 SHRM Employee Benefits research report) already have some kind ofEmployee Assistance Program (EAP) in place, butis it enough?

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“I believe an employer's role is to educate, enable and empoweremployees to make choices, or changes, in their own personal lifethat will help them be healthy and happy. It's not something thatcan be forced upon a person, but a positive culture of genuine careand support can be a source of strength and encouragement,” saysScott Ence, HR Director with Clearlink, a Utah based digitalmarketing company,

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EAPs generally only have a 1 to 5 percent utilizationrate—so no, having the benefits and resources in place is notenough. Employers have to understand why employees were not seekinghelp and break down these barriers. Ence led the charge tochange Clearlink's company culture and get rid of thestigma tied to mental health and asking forhelp by bringing a licensed counselor onsite at the workplace intwo of their largest locations. They launched the initiative with amassive communication, including the underlying message toemployees stating, “we care.” The more employers help employeesthrive in their personal life, the more engaged and loyal theybecome to the organization.

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Certainly, not all employers are in a position to bring inonsite counselors, but they can adopt the fundamental principlesdemonstrated by Clearlink. Don't just have the resources in place;implement policies to shift the culture in the workplace to make itokay for employees to ask for help. Employees are often fearful oflosing their job if they are injured or perceived as a risk andfeel ashamed.

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Employers should do everything in their power to stop theproblem before it starts. Avoiding injuries through effectivesafety policies and ergonomic training can help prevent the needfor pain treatment. There are also certain risk factors thatincrease a person's risk of overdosing on opioids, according to theNational Safety Council, such as obesity, COPD,sleep apnea, heart failure, anxiety and depression.

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An effective chronic condition management program can helpreduce the prevalence of chronic conditions if employees choose toutilize the program. A culture that endorses healthy lifestylechoices such as walking at work, healthy snack options and taking abreak to reduce stress all contribute to reduced risk of chronicdisease.

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Prior to an acute injury, there is often the onset of chronicpain. Alleviating chronic pain through chiropractic care or activerelease therapy can reduce the incidence of injury. Covering theseless invasive treatments is a must but making it convenient byoffering access onsite can increase the likelihood employees willtake advantage of care. To further improve utilization, implement apolicy to allow employees to access onsite care at no charge,during work hours.

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Is there anything else? From a compliance perspective, employerscan only address direct job performance issues—they cannot addressthe origins of why an employee is not performing. Additionally, theAmerican Disabilities Act further complicates the legalities of anintervention in the workplace since employees are protected by lawand there can be a liability attached if employers' step in whereit's not warranted, but generally encouraging employees to speak upand ask for help is acceptable.

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Creating a culture and environment that promotes the health andwell-being of employees and a company that cares increases thelikelihood of employees receiving intervention at every point alongthe continuum: maintaining overall health, reducing injury, seekingalternative pain therapy, limiting dispensing of opioids, askingfor help if a problem develops and covering treatment for addictionand support for family members.

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If employers don't know where to start, start a conversation.Review benefit offerings to ensure resources are available withmultiple entry points, then communicate. Educate employees on thebenefits, but also communicate a message of care and concern forthe total well-being of employees and their families.


More strategies for combating opioids in theworkplace:


Shira Wilensky is national practice leaderof health & wellbeing at OneDigital Health andBenefits.

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