Opioid Epidemic Response: Employer Toolkit - Minnesota Department of Health

Opioid Epidemic Response: Employer Toolkit

Substance use and substance use disorder affects employees, workplaces, families, and communities.

Employers have the opportunity to identify early signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder, and help connect employees to treatment and recovery supports. Substance use disorder impacts workplace safety, health care costs, productivity, absenteeism, and job performance. Not only are individual employees affected by substance use disorder, any employee may have a partner, child, or family member that is struggling with a substance use disorder. When employers respond to the opioid epidemic, it benefits the employee and the people that surround them. It is good for employees and good for business!

5 Steps Employers Can Take to be a Part of the Opioid Epidemic Response.

This toolkit was developed by the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Business Partnership (MBP) in a public-private partnership. Use the five steps below to prevent and address substance use disorder within your workplace. Customize the toolkit materials to fit your needs. Listen to the Substance Use Prevention: It's Good for Business webinar for tips on how to use the toolkit and engage businesses.

1. Change the Conversation

Substance use disorder is a preventable and treatable illness.

Many of us are aware of the consequences and harms associated with substance use disorder. Substance use impacts work safety, health care costs, productivity, absenteeism, and job performance; there are many costs associated with substance use disorder. Did you know that there are cost savings associated with recovery? Recovery is good for business! Compared to the general population, people in recovery miss fewer days of work, have lower health care utilization, and stay at their jobs longer. (Source: Shatterproof Workplace Cost Calculator)

Like substance use disorder, mental illness is a medical condition. Mental illness disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning. It is common. It is treatable. Mental illness stigma comes in many forms. Exclusion, silence, and labeling are just a few. Visit MakeItOK.org to learn more about how you can reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

2. Promote Safe Use, Storage and Disposal

People sometimes hold onto medications “just in case”. It is illegal and not safe to share prescription medications with anyone else.

Opioids are intended to address pain, and have the potential for physical and psychological dependence. Opioids are particularly risky when taken for a longer period, at high doses, and when combined with other medications, drugs, or alcohol. 

Opioids might be used for acute (up to 7 days) and terminal pain. The recommendation is to use the lowest dose (morphine milligram equivalent or MME) and duration (number of pills) that is clinically necessary. While opioids might be a part of a pain management strategy for an acute injury, the post-acute period (up to 45 days) is a critical timeframe when the body can become dependent and/or addicted to opioids. Research has shown that ibuprofen and acetaminophen are as effective in many cases for pain management. 

Medicines in home cabinets are the second leading cause of accidental poisonings in both children and adults (Source: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency). Many people who have a substance use disorder, first used opioids from a family member or friend who shared prescription opioids with them. Store medications in their original containers, and in a place that children and visitors cannot easily access; locked medicine boxes or locked medicine cabinets are available. Sort through medications annually and dispose of outdated or unneeded medications.

3. Prepare for Overdose Emergencies

Naloxone is a medication that temporarily blocks the effects of an opioid during an opioid overdose emergency. Through the State Targeted Response (STR) Grants, five community-based organizations provide naloxone training, which include naloxone kits, free of charge. Schedule a training for your employees today:

Ensure that clinical settings stock naloxone and/or co-prescribe naloxone. Refer to the Opioid Prescribing Guidelines to learn when co-prescribing is indicated.

Ensure that pharmacies (1) are a part of the naloxone protocol or comparable policy, (2) participate in syringe access, and (3) have a safe drop location that is posted on the statewide searchable database.

You can get naloxone from (1) your primary care provider, (2) a pharmacy that has adopted the Naloxone Protocol, and (3) community-based organizations. The Naloxone Protocol allows any pharmacy to dispense naloxone to anyone who is risk for, or knows someone who is at risk for, an opioid overdose. Naloxone is also used during an opioid emergency by EMS providers, law enforcement, hospitals, clinics, family members, friends, and Good Samaritans.

MDH Naloxone Videos

4. Make Help Accessible

Encourage employees to use their health insurance and/or Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for mental or chemical health needs. For example:

There are effective treatments available for substance use disorder for employees and their family members. Look at mental and chemical health treatment availability in the Fast Tracker; search by location, treatment type, and preferences. The Fast Tracker is a Minnesota searchable database of mental and chemical health treatment availability. Individuals can search for treatment based on zip code, service type, or keyword (e.g. buprenorphine/suboxone, methadone, inpatient, outpatient, LGBTQ). It is important to reassure people that there are withdrawal management and effective treatments available. Recovery is possible.

5. Support Wellness

All employees, including those in recovery, can benefit from workplaces that focus on health and wellness. There are additional considerations to have a recovery-friendly workplace. Consider steps your company can take to promote policies that enhance wellness and self-care, support long-term recovery and aim to reduce stigma around drug use. Consider where there could be a more compassionate, informed approach when it comes to substance use disorder and hiring, discipline, retention, and firing of staff. Set time on the leadership team agenda to talk about policies that could support recovery.

In a survey of 501 human resources decision-makers, 80% recognize that substance use disorder is impacting employees and their families, but 42% believe it is a moral failing, and 65% said it is a justifiable reason to fire someone (Source: National Employer Survey: Prescription Drugs and the US Workforce, National Safety Council). 

When your agency is ready to engage in conversation around substance use disorder, in a way that doesn’t increase risk or stigma towards people in recovery and/or with a substance use disorder, you can host a listening session to learn from employees who are in recovery. Questions may include:

  • What do you want (company) to know about your needs, as a person in recovery?
  • How can (company) support you in your recovery?
  • What do you wish everyone understood about addiction or the recovery process?
  • Consider having an anonymous way that staff can submit ideas, for those that do not want to disclose their recovery health status. 

Just as physical health is more than the absence of disease, including substance use disorder, positive mental health is more than the absence of mental illness. Learn more about mental wellness, and promoting mental well-being. 

Across the country, companies are also rethinking their practices around drug testing job applicants. If a candidate passes the selection and interview process, but fails a drug test, some companies are giving applicants the option of undergoing a drug assessment with corresponding treatment and then returning to the applicant pool upon completion. Consider implementing recovery-friendly practices like this in your workplace.

Best Practices:

Has your company taken steps that can be shared with others as part of a best practices platform? Please share your success stories with Sam Robertson at sam.robertson@state.mn.us so other companies can learn from your approach.

Learn More:

Please visit the Opioid Dashboard for more information on opioid overdose death, nonfatal overdose, use, misuse, substance use disorder, prescribing practices, supply, diversion, harm reduction, co-occurring conditions, and social determinants of health. For questions or feedback about the MBP/MDH Employer Toolkit, contact Sam Robertson at sam.robertson@state.mn.us.

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Updated Tuesday, 02-Aug-2022 09:13:09 CDT