Workplace health discussions usually focus on healthy eating and physical activity, but at this year’s BizTimes Wellness Summit, a new and very important topic was on the agenda: opioid addiction.
While many people instantly equate this category of substance abuse with illegal drugs such as heroin, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that at least half of opioid-related deaths involve prescription medication abuse.
Prescription opioids include painkillers that have become household names, including OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet.
Painkillers — typically prescribed for short-term use — are often taken for years after the initial prescription is written. In fact, research conducted by Anthem’s health outcomes subsidiary, HealthCore, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the University of Washington found that more than half the people who take opioids for chronic pain are likely to still be taking the painkillers five years later.
At the Wellness Summit, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s Dr. Michael Jaeger lead small group discussions focused on the dangers of opioid abuse and how employers can use their benefits to create a supportive environment that enables their employees and dependents to get the care they need.
While addiction may not be on your company’s radar, it should not be overlooked.
Addiction costs employers billions per year in lost productivity, and in the United States 44 people die of a prescription drug overdose every day. Furthermore, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 76 percent of people addicted to narcotics are employed.
In other words, prescription drug abuse and addiction may be more widespread than you realize. The National Business Group on Health offers eight specific suggestions that business leaders can take to face this growing epidemic:
- Look at your company’s claims data to identify opioid-related treatments. Your pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) and health insurance plan provider can give you the necessary guidance.
- Edit your pain management benefits. You can shift the costs of opioid medications by increasing out-of-pocket costs for extensive use.
- Ask your health plan provider to identify inappropriate prescribing. The CDC has new guidelines, and not all health care providers are familiar with the updated rules.
- Ask if your health care plan requires regular pain evaluations and limits drug quantities. Benefits can be set up to discourage “pharmacy shopping.”
- Work with your PBM. He or she can encourage alternatives to brand-name opioids, such as abuse-deterrent formulations and new, long-acting pills.
- Limit your plan benefits. Implement a lock-in plan that limits pain benefits to a specific doctor and pharmacy to avoid doctor shopping.
- Help opioids stay in the right hands. Educate your employees about safely disposing of opioid medications.
- Boost the use of your company’s employee assistance program. By doing so, you’ll encourage stronger, more proactive mental health practices.
Remember: bad things can happen to good people. Drug addiction – especially to legally-prescribed painkillers – should be approached with understanding and support, not criticism and condemnation. Make sure your employee benefits provide ways for your employees and their family members to get help.
To learn more, please visit Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s The Benefits Guide website, where you’ll find articles about opioid awareness, as well as general wellness strategies, such as how to reduce employee stress and how to use flexible work hours to your advantage.