Where Can I Find Opioid Help at Work?

Written by Buprenorphine Doctors

The thought of opioid addiction treatment might conjure the image of a sparse room in a sterile clinic. But many patients complete outpatient treatment, where they stay connected to their everyday lives — including their workplaces. But how does opioid addiction fit there?

The answer is complex. Let’s see what you should know.

What to Know

It’s no secret that the nation’s opioid crisis hurts American employers. Over 21 million Americans suffer from opioid addiction, and when about 70% of them are employed, workplaces will suffer from addiction’s effects (higher absenteeism, lower productivity, greater safety risks, and increased healthcare costs). Opioid abuse costs American businesses $504 billion each year.

But for all this impact, there isn’t much response. Here are a few overview stats from the National Security Council:

  • Only 19% of employers feel extremely prepared to handle opioid abuse
  • 81% lack a comprehensive policy for drug-free workplaces
  • 76% don’t provide training to recognize opioid abuse
  • 59% don’t test for synthetic opioids during drug-tests

Employers still have plenty of work to do. And in the same breath, if you need workplace help during your opioid treatment, you can find good resources.

Pushing for Improvement

There are ongoing efforts to improve companies’ opioid responses. Some state governments have employer toolkits outlining what can be done. Corporate Wellness Magazine suggests three concrete actions for companies to take. Jodi Debbrecht Switalski, a malpractice lawyer familiar with substance abuse, has developed a “Be the Change” program to expand workplaces’ opioid resources.

As you can see, there’s no reason to despair about employers’ response to the opioid crisis. Many people are already discussing options and taking action.

Now, here’s the actions you can take in your own workplace.

What To Look For

Begin with looking at your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). This is a list of free resources available to employees, required to be confidential, and meant to help alcoholism, drug use, domestic stresses, workload pressures, and many other problems. You can find counseling here, or get help from a Human Resources representative whose job is to create a fair workplace environment.

It might feel uncomfortable to use these services, like you’re at rock bottom, or like you’re a problematic employee. You’re not. You just need to keep giving your best work, and the EAP can be a good way to do that. If you’re worried about blowback from your boss, remember that your help remains confidential.

Another resource is the use of company-wide drug tests. At face-value, these seem more harmful than helpful. If you fail a drug test because of opioid use or relapse, won’t you be fired immediately?

That depends on whether you open up about your opioid use disorder beforehand. Letting your boss or HR representative know how you’re recovering before a drug test should lead you to the EAP or other company resources already in place. If you’re able, proactively seek your own help, and your employers should come alongside you.

What To Organize

If you don’t feel secure addressing your own opioid use in your workplace, don’t shrink back: lean into the discomfort. Why do you feel insecure? Is your EAP outdated, unhelpful, or hard to understand? Do you fear that your boss or HR representative won’t support your recovery?

Your discomfort might show you just where your workplace can improve. Help your workplace join the conversation about improved drug policies by starting with your own case. Here are a few strategies to improve your workplace’s handling of opioid addiction:

1. Strengthen the EAP

Management should make sure that the EAP can actually help their employees. It’ll need to be easily read, it’ll need to anticipate their concerns, and it’ll need to be confidential. Each company has one, but employers should reexamine it for efficiency.

2. Update an Official Drug Policy

Employees should have one clear document that explains exactly how the company defines and handles drug abuse in the workplace. It can state expected employee behaviors, mention specific workplace policies (drug-testing, serving alcohol at official events, etc.), and outline options for employees who suffer from addiction. Every worker should know what to expect from their employers, and what their employers expect of them.

3. Educate as Much as Possible

The more that both employees and employers understand, the less likely that they’ll handle opioid addiction in a harmful or unsupportive way. The drug policy is one way to teach employees. Other ways include general workshops on physical and mental health, and even workshops or seminars specific to opioid abuse. Explain the basics of available drug resources (the EAP), and explain how HR reps will help.

How will HR reps help? That’s some more necessary instruction for the workplace. Management personnel will need the right training to handle opioid addiction and recovery as delicately and supportively as possible. Employers need to learn just as much as employees when it comes to opioid addiction.

You Can Step Up

Admitting your struggle against opioid addiction is frightening. There are stigmas tied to opioid use, and no matter how unfounded they are, they might worry you. It’ll take bravery to stand up for yourself on this.

But it’s worth doing. For one, it’s the way to support your own health and productivity. For another, it might improve opioid help for your entire workplace. You can’t know if you keep silent, however. So speak up, and be the change.


Buprenorphine Doctors