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How Employers Are Confronting Addiction

It is interesting, at times, to put yourself in the mindset of an business owner. Employee welfare is a key component of running a successful operation, which begs the question: How should you respond if someone in your workforce is battling an addiction? Well, truth be told, it’s a much more common occurrence than you may think; particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. And to their credit, the website Employee Benefit News addressed the topic head on with a new article on their site.


EBN tied their story to the current opioid crisis impacting our nation. As we’ve mentioned in previous blogs, these types of prescription addictions can impact any industry; whether it’s a blue collar construction business or a high-profile law firm. And in our current age of telecommuting and remote work, it can be much easier to hide a dependency while on the job.


Mental health is a big issue plaguing Americans right now, with anxiety and depression being major contributors for substance abuse. Cigna’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Doug Nemeck, explained to EBN that we may be in the midst of a “perfect storm” of addiction and company heads need to definitely pay attention.


“Before COVID-19, employees didn’t have a lot of free time to do drugs or drink while at work,” Dr. Nemeck told the site. “With remote work, they are even more isolated from society and nobody is around to see them drinking or taking drugs. Employers, as the decision makers of health plan design, have the unique ability to educate and build support systems for employees, particularly those at-risk. This not only improves the health of employees, it improves the culture and overall wellbeing at the organization.”


From the employer side, EBN correctly points out that addictions amongst workers can cost companies a great deal. There are issues with healthcare plans and it is common for people battling substance abuse to often miss work, leading to profit losses. The solution, it appears, is to expand access to services for behavioral and mental health; particularly during this pandemic.


EBN’s article cites the work that’s happening in Minnesota as a major success story. Via a statewide initiative, employers were provided opioid toolkits for their workers. Within it, people were given access to educational software, local therapist referrals and virtual workshops. Above all though, this movement acknowledged the situation of addiction and worked to de-stigmatize it. As the piece correctly points out, ignoring these problems will not make them go away. In fact, turning the other cheek will more than likely make workplace addictions even worse.


“Addressing the opioid crisis in the workplace is good for business,” Dr. Nemeck concluded. “One of the big reasons people don’t seek help is they are worried about their employer finding out about their addiction. We need programs that will help get the message across that employers stand behind their workers and want to get them the help they need.”