Columbus Business First: The true costs of opioid abuse in the workplace — and what Ohio businesses are doing to help

By Ohio Opioid Education Alliance

The opioid crisis is, first and foremost, a human tragedy—lives lost, families torn apart and communities broken. In Ohio alone, there were nearly 4,300 opioid overdose deaths in 2017.

But there is also an economic cost, from the strain on healthcare providers and spending on prevention efforts to the lost productivity of employees.

Consider the following statistics:

•$42 billion: The annual cost to U.S. employers for lost productivity relating to opioid abuse, according to the National Safety Council.

•2 million: Prime-age workers (25 to 54 years old) absent from the country’s labor force between 1999 and 2015 because of opioids, according to the American Action Forum.

•0.8%: Reduction in Ohio’s real annual GDP growth between 1999 and 2015 as a result of opioids, meaning the state’s economy would have grown about 90% faster without the crisis, according to the American Action Forum.

Awareness of the epidemic has grown, thanks in part to the “Don’t Live in Denial” advertising campaign that warns Ohio parents and caregivers against having a “not my kid” attitude.

“I think in the business community there has been a realization that they can’t deny it anymore,” said Pat Tiberi, CEO of the Ohio Business Roundtable, an organization of CEOs aiming to improve Ohio’s business competitiveness. “There clearly is more engagement from the business community on this issue.”

To help businesses understand the cost of substance use in their workplace, the National Safety Council offers an online calculator tool, which considers a company’s employee base, industry and state to estimate the workplace costs incurred due to substance use. For example, a retailer in Ohio with 100 employees will lose more than $36,000 a year due to substance abuse issues.

The Ohio Opioid Education Alliance, the public-private coalition behind the “Don’t Live in Denial” campaign, in less than 18 months has grown to more than 80 member organizations pledging more than $6 million.

There remains a tendency to think opioids do not affect people close to ourselves when, in reality, it touches our families, friends and colleagues who may be holding down jobs and concealing their struggles. Fifty-six percent of substance abusers are gainfully employed, according to the National Safety Council. Employers know the issue creeps into the workplace but acknowledge they do not have a grasp on handling it. According to the National Safety Council, three-quarters of U.S. employers say they are affected by the crisis, but only 17% say they feel prepared to handle it.

Local employers are not content to accept the status quo and have begun implementing employee education programs, second-chance employment policies and other creative solutions to support their workforces.

“The majority of our members are leaning in on using human resources to be more active with employees on this issue,” Tiberi said. “The crisis really puts Ohio’s reputation at risk nationally, and that’s why I think having the private and public sector and healthcare and addiction services being on the same page—having the same outlook and message—is really important.”

The business community has been working hand in hand with nonprofits and government agencies, said Lori Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

“Especially with the alliance members, it’s just a great opportunity to hear from them about how they’re feeling pressure on this issue,” Criss said.

For more on the public-private Ohio Opioid Education Alliance and its collaborators, visit DontLiveinDenial.org.

The Ohio Opioid Education Alliance is a coalition of business, education, nonprofit, civic and government organizations formed by the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health (ADAMH) Board of Franklin County to educate and prevent young Ohioans from misusing and abusing opioids. The Alliance’s primary purpose is to promote and amplify the Denial, OH, campaign.

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