It is well known that addiction doesn’t discriminate and that it impacts individuals, families and communities across ethnic, racial, sexual, religious and economic lines. It is also well known that America’s rising addiction epidemic (yes, it’s more than just opioids) has had a profound impact on America’s economy, America’s workforce and specifically on America’s employers, great and small.
According to a tool created by The National Safety Council and national nonprofit organization Shatterproof, in collaboration with the independent research institution NORC at the University of Chicago, most employers are unaware of the overall cost and many of the hidden costs of the substance use disorder crisis in this country. Some of the numbers found by this new tool “The Real Cost of Substance Use to Employers” were that substance use disorders affect 20.8 million Americans, which is almost 8% of the adult and adolescent population, and when direct family members are included, addiction and substance use disorders nearly 1/3 of the population of the United States is impacted by substance use disorder and addiction.
Some other staggering numbers found by this research included that 75% of adults suffering from substance use disorder are in the workforce. The economic impact of substance use disorder in America is over $442 billion dollars. Most employers and workplaces bear the significant portion of those costs based on absenteeism from work, increased healthcare expenses and overall loss of productivity. Employees dealing with substance use disorders from medication cost employers 3x the healthcare costs of the average employee. Additionally, each employee with a pain medication use disorder costs employers nearly $2500 in missed work. These numbers fall across both blue-collar and white-collar jobs.
Although it is difficult to calculate the actual economic impact in some cases, there is little doubt that addiction and substance use disorder costs employers much in ways of lost productivity, both from the employees impacted directly by addiction as well as the other employees who often need to pick up slack or job functions outside their typical daily routine and HR professionals taking the time to work with those individuals when they otherwise could be focusing on core job responsibilities. Additional issues can include medical absences, injuries, theft, poor decision making, poor employee attitudes, and low employee morale. The physical, mental and emotional toll that addiction takes on direct sufferers as well as an entire workplace cannot be denied, as well as the worry, stress, fear and personal financial cost that impacts those suffering from addiction and their families, which certainly translates to their work environment and can have a direct correlation in their productivity and job performance.
The addiction epidemic in America is not going anywhere and will continue to impact employers, their employees and the overall American workforce. So, what can be done? What can employers do to best support their employees in need as well as appropriately supporting their overall workforce and company? What do employers need to know about addiction to best be prepared to do the right thing for their overall company, their overall organization health and the personal health and wellness of their impaired and impacted employees suffering from addiction? And how can employers support those employees suffering from addiction without discrimination or stigma?
Clearly, from both a business perspective, an employer perspective, and a workplace perspective, addressing addiction and substance use disorder is vital. Doing so appropriately and successfully will make for a better company culture, better company health and wellness, and a more financially and efficiently successful business. It is important that business and employers have a stance regarding substance use disorders and a strong plan in place for impaired or suffering employees. It is important that a business promotes a supportive atmosphere that aids in improving health and wellness as opposed to a culture that promotes a disciplinary or shaming approach. It helps by taking a proactive rather than a reactive approach.
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a long-standing and effective way to aid employees in your organization that might be suffering from addiction. An EAP is a voluntary, confidential program that helps employees identify, address and work through various life challenges that may adversely affect job performance, health and personal well-being. This aids in optimizing an organization’s efficiency and success. EAP’s are designed to boost employee performance by proactively helping employees in need resolve personal issues surrounding financial, legal, physical and mental health and substance use disorder issues.
Other ways that employees can aid in addressing addiction and substance use disorders are implementing drug-free workplaces, having strong and supportive written policies and procedures regarding substance misuse, offering health insurance coverage that provide comprehensive substance use disorder treatment benefits, reducing stigma of addiction in the workplace by looking at addiction as a disease and a health issue rather than a moral or character issue, and offering regular and ongoing educational platforms and seminars to employees.
Another important step that employers and companies can take is making sure that ownership, management, and HR professionals are educated about addiction. It is important to understand that addiction is a chronic illness that doesn’t magically get better in a short time. Recovery is a process and treatment should be handled through a continuum of care, based on each individual employee’s needs. Therefore, companies and management should understand that an employee most likely will need more help, treatment and support than a short-term detox or a 28 or 30 day stay as a residential treatment program or rehab. They will need a strong and comprehensive aftercare program that supports them in their transition back to work. This could include an extended care program, outpatient programs like a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) or intensive outpatient program (IOP) or seeing outpatient clinical professionals like a therapist and psychiatrist. Additional support can be drug testing and monitoring and programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), SMART Recovery, Celebrate Recovery or Refuge Recovery. Employers should understand that self-care will be of the utmost importance for employees just entering into recovery or sobriety and that learning new healthy coping mechanism and positive and effective ways to handle stress at work is vital.
Finally, businesses, employers and HR departments should create strong relationships with local providers of addiction and mental health treatment in their local community that is based on collaboration, communication and support. It is very important that a treatment center or rehab be in regular communication with the company of a patient in their program. This will allow for support, transparency, a better understanding of addiction and the necessary services, the long-term plan for the employee and get everyone on the same page and working together to support the employee dealing with addiction and entering recovery to set them up with the best chance of success and sustainable recovery. Employers and their HR departments should create and maintain long-term relationships with local, community-based rehabs, treatment centers, therapists, counselors and psychiatrists. There should be a trusted group of addiction treatment and mental health professionals and clinicians that employers and HR departments can immediately turn to when an employee needs health. Those professionals should not only be happy to but more over expect that employer or HR department to be regularly involved in communicating about and receiving updates on how the employer is doing in treatment and they transition back to work. Employers and HR professionals should expect regular updates and communication and feel secure that if they have concerns or worries about the employers’ ongoing health or performance, they can easily reach out and connect with the treatment center or professionals. Transparency, communication and collaboration is key between providers and employers and HR to make sure that the patient/employee is getting the help they need and that everyone is on the same page in terms of the long-term plan, goals and support to ensure a successful recovery.
There is no doubt that substance use disorders and addiction negatively impact employers, businesses and the workforce in many ways. However, when an employer is educated and supportive, employees should feel safe and secure going to them to discuss their struggles or issues and feel supported as they go get the help they need. When an employee suffering from addiction gets the appropriate support and help and ends of finding recovery, they become an incredible asset to the company and the workforce. They become healthier, happier and more productive employees. When employers support employees in need find recovery, the benefits and success follow, and recovery begins to pay great dividends to the company. In turn, the organization or company becomes healthier, runs more smoothly, efficiently and productively and everyone at the company benefits.
If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or dual diagnosis issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our website at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.