Create a Culture of Support
Creating a culture of support in the workplace can help reduce the risk of employees being exposed to opioids, as well as increase their likelihood of seeking help and treatment. By creating and reinforcing a culture of support around opioid- and other substance-related challenges in the workplace, employees will feel more empowered to seek help.
Integration of substance misuse prevention messaging into existing workplace wellness programs can help build this culture without the need for many additional resources. This messaging should focus on providing resources to employees, whether through a company EAP or local social support and treatment services, as well as conveying employer support. Communicating trust and openness around the subject of SUD and OUD can help reassure employees that their employer has their best interest in mind and can help them access necessary resources. Furthermore, employees will be better
equipped to make healthcare decisions, seek help when needed, and navigate treatment. As part of this messaging, employers should pay special attention to the use of nonstigmatizing language. Stigma creates issues of trust among people who have SUDs and creates negative perceptions of the disease. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a guide for appropriate language “Words Matter: How Language Choice Can Reduce Stigma.”
Promotion of an employer’s culture and policies toward SUD can also serve as a valuable recruitment and retention tool. Going public with workplace policies and benefit changes in support of prevention, treatment, and recovery can position employers in their community as a champion of compassionate and transparent employment. Employees who feel well supported by their Employers, regardless of what personal challenges they may be facing, will be more inclined to stay with their employer.
In addition to supporting current Employees, employers should consider partnering with organizations and programs to hire individuals who may already be in recovery. Individuals in Recovery are often highly motivated to succeed and are a potentially untapped group of quality employees, available at a time when unemployment is at record lows. Programs such as Work Opportunity Tax Credits (WOTC) and KY Federal Bonding are in place that benefit employers who hire individuals with barriers to employment. Additionally, other programs exist that partner employers with prospective employees who are in recovery. Employers should consider reaching out to state and local career centers to better understand these programs, as well as explore community or non-profit organizations dedicated to this cause.
Educate Employees and Supervisors
Educating employees on opioid use and associated risks can help prevent the likelihood of their misuse of opioids as well as its potential consequences. The benefits can also extend to the community, as employees can educate their families and friends. This education should focus not only on general topics related to opioid use, but also how substance and opioid use is handled in the workplace.
Topics for employee education include:
- Relationship between pain and opioids
- Risks of opioid use
- Alternative methods to opioid use
- Company approaches to addiction
- Signs of impairment and factors that may support drug testing
- Stigmatizing language and effective communication
Educating supervisors and managers can provide many of the same benefits as educating employees, and also ensures that supervisors and managers are well-equipped to manage opioid-related situations.
Topics for supervisor education include:
- Signs of impairment and factors that may support drug testing
- Stigmatizing language and effective communications
- Workplace substance use and drug testing policies
- Laws and regulations on prescription drug use at work
Methods of communicating information to employees can be largely dependent on the workforce’s size, culture, and employer resources. To ease implementation, employers should consider utilizing their existing communication channels. Additionally, they may consider adoption of existing targeted training programs and messaging from campaigns such as National Prevention Week, Rx Awareness, Choosing Wisely, or National Take Back Days.
Workplace Naloxone Programs
In addition to educating employees on opioid overdose response, employers may consider implementing a naloxone availability program in the workplace. The Center’s for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a guide to aid in this decision, “Using Naloxone to Reverse Opioid Overdose in the Workplace: Information for Employers and Workers.”
Offer Leaves of Absence and Flexible Scheduling
When accessing treatment for OUD or supporting a family member, employees may need to take a leave of absence or adopt a more flexible work schedule. For example, appointments for counseling or receipt of Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) may interfere with their regular work schedule. Accommodating these requirements can help support the employee in their treatment and recovery from OUD.
Privacy can be a concern for employees in need of scheduling accommodations. To mitigate this, employers should ensure that information on how to apply for a leave of absence is readily available and that administrators are well-versed in employee rights. Eligible employees may take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for their or their family member’s serious health condition under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Provide Support Group Resources
A workplace support group can be an effective tool for employees dealing with substance use challenges. Although privacy concerns can keep employers from facilitating support group meetings, employers can support these gatherings by offering a space for employees to independently convene.
Employers can also help in connecting employees to external support group resources. Multiple organizations exist that help in either determining a support group curriculum for a new group or welcoming people into existing groups. Much like treatment, the philosophy and success of the group are largely dependent on the individual. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has information on many of these programs at https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/.