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Drugs at Work:
What Employers Need to Know

  • Nearly 21 million Americans are living with substance use disorder, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. That's more than the total number of people living with of cancer and more than the population of the state of New York.

    Three-quarters of those struggling with addiction to alcohol, pain medication, marijuana and other substances are employed. Workers with substance use disorders miss nearly 50% more work days than their peers – up to six weeks annually – and absenteeism leads to losses in productivity.

    While the Surgeon General reports substance use disorders cost the U.S. economy more than $400 billion a year, employers don't seem to recognize the scope of the problem. In a National Safety Council survey, 39% of employers viewed prescription drug use as a threat to safety and just 24% said it is a problem, even though seven in 10 companies reported issues ranging from absenteeism to overdose.

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    What Employers Told Us


    Construction, entertainment, recreation and food service sectors have twice the national average of employees with substance use disorders. NSC also found:

    • Industries dominated by women or older adults had a two-thirds lower rate of substance abuse
    • Industries that have higher numbers of workers with alcohol use disorders also had more illicit drug, pain medication and marijuana use disorders
    • Employers were most concerned about the costs of benefits (95%), the ability to hire qualified workers (93%) and the costs of workers' compensation (84%) – but less concerned over drug misuse (67%) and illegal drug sale or use (61%)
    • Workers in recovery have lower turnover rates and are less likely to miss work days, less likely to be hospitalized and have fewer doctor visits

    How Employers Can Make a Difference


    NSC found healthcare costs for employees who misuse or abuse prescription drugs are three times higher than for an average employee. Employers can take simple steps to protect themselves and their employees:

    • Recognize prescription drugs impact the bottom line
    • Enact strong company drug policies
    • Expand drug panel testing to include opioids
    • Train supervisors and employees to spot the first signs of drug misuse
    • Treat substance abuse as a disease
    • Leverage employee assistance programs to help employees return to work

    The annual cost of untreated substance use disorder ranges from $2,600 per employee in agriculture to more than $13,000 per employee in information and communications.

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    'My Brother was Injured at Work, But He Overdosed at Home'


    In the NSC report, Prescription Pain Medications: A Fatal Cure for Injured Workers, Rex tells the story of his brother's death. Bill was injured at work. He died at home of an accidental methadone overdose in July 2006.

    Since then, Rex has worked to focus attention on the dangers associated with taking methadone and other opioids. He pushes for drug policy changes in the workplace because he believes employers can do more to inform and protect their employees.

    "My brother was injured at work, but he overdosed at home," Rex said. "So, obviously, this isn't a concern isolated to the workplace."

    Still, he believes employers can do more.

    "Organizations need to get information out to their employees and help employees understand the gravity of prescription drug use," Rex said. "It's a life or death situation."


Weed and Your Workforce: What You Need to Know

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, making it accessible to more than 150 million Americans. Employers need to know the critical safety impact legal marijuana can have on public and workplace policy. Log in with your nsc.org account or create one to watch the webinar. Download the presentation slides here.

Prescription Drug Abuse at Work: Prevention Strategies

Employers increasingly are impacted by the prescription drug epidemic, yet a recent NSC survey in Indiana found only 53% of employers have a policy in place. Two noted experts share key findings from the survey, discuss their experience creating and administering mandatory education programs, and present a case study exploring the successes and obstacles faced by one employer. Log in with your nsc.org account or create one to watch the webinar. Download the presentation slides here.

Prescription Pain Meds: A Fatal Cure for Injured Workers

Many employees who use opioids to treat work-related injuries are not aware of potential risks. Our webinar reviews recent court decisions that can help you discover potential liability risks and will show you how you can protect injured workers on and off the job. Log in with your existing nsc.org account or creat a new one to watch the webinar here. Download the presentation slides here.


The Rapidly Changing Face of Substance Abuse

​More than 20% of the workforce has misused prescription painkillers. Could your employees be among them? In this recorded webinar, we explain the need for workplace drug policies that include opioid painkiller testing. Watch the recording.

Managing Prescription Opioid Misuse

Prescription painkiller use is driving up your worker’s compensation costs. Find out how ​and w​hat you can do. Watch this recording of our webinar featuring Dr. Constantine J. Gean of California, download the slides.

The Hidden Workplace Epidemic

Prescription opioid use is impacting your workplace, but you may not realize it. Watch a recording of our webinar and read our Q&A.

Make Your Workplace Opioid Free

Employee use of prescription painkillers threatens employees' safety and your bottom line.

Download the Kit

NSC Speakers Bureau

The National Safety Council works with three physicians who are available to talk to your organization about prescription drug misuse.

Meet our Speakers
  • Weed & Your Workforce: What You Need to Know

    Our free webinar helps employers affected by marijuana legalization develop best-practice policies for their workplace.

    Watch the Webinar

National Safety Council Mission

The National Safety Council eliminates preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy.

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