March 14, 2018 Articles

Opioid Addiction Enters the Workplace

By Dawn J. Lanouette

Jane was a great employee; a mother of two, who lived in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. Jane fractured her back in a serious car accident and was out of work on disability. Months later, Jane returned to work. Yet on return, her performance suffered. She had frequent absences and made many mistakes. A couple of months later, Jane was terminated for her performance. A year later, she died of an opioid overdose. Jane is now everywhere.

The Opioid Crisis
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have his or her own bottle of pills. CDC, Opioid Painkiller Prescribing (July 2014). From 1999 to 2014, sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. nearly quadrupled. CDC, Opioid Overdose, Prescribing Data. As of 2015, one in three Americans had a prescription for an opioid.

This escalating drug use has serious consequences. By some estimates, one in four users of opioids will become addicted. In 2014, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 4.3 million Americans engaged in the nonmedical use of an opioid each month.

Deaths from opioid abuse have increased from 35,000 per year in 2015 to 64,000 in 2016. There are now more deaths from drugs (two-thirds of which are opioid related) than from car accidents or gun violence. Clearly, opioid addiction is a societal crisis.

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