Substance Use Costs Your Workplace More Than You Think

Updated tool points to greater employer role and impact.

December 07, 2020

People across the country continue to struggle in coping with the pandemic and its resulting financial, emotional and social challenges. Dispelling the stigma surrounding mental health issues and substance misuse is more important now than ever.

As we near the end of 2020, it has now been more than 20 years since drug overdoses started to spike. Our understanding of how drug and opioid overdoses, as well as the increasing rates of people with substance use disorders, has likewise grown as well. More than ever, workplaces and employers are being directly impacted, as 75% of people with a substance use disorder are employed, and the vast majority of workplaces have been negatively affected by employee substance use.

To help employers understand how substance misuse impacts their bottom lines – and what they can save by addressing it – NSC and NORC at the University of Chicago have updated the Substance Use Cost Calculator with the new data and analysis. The Substance Use Cost Calculator is an authoritative, easy-to-use tool providing business leaders with individualized, specific information about the cost of substance use on workplace, and newly released data highlights the increasing impact substance use has had on employers even prior to the pandemic.

Highlights include:

  • The average cost to employers has jumped over 400% between 2012-2014 and 2017-2018, from an average cost of $1,626 to $8,255 per employee with an untreated substance use disorder.
  • The cost savings to employers for retaining workers in recovery has also gone up – from $3,200 to over $8,500 on average.
  • Workers in recovery tend to be strong employees. They take about eight days off each year compared to the average 11.6 days off taken annually by workers without substance use disorders. Workers in recovery also tend to stay in jobs longer, are less likely to be hospitalized and have fewer primary care visits.

This data was collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we believe that these numbers will continue to rise. The pandemic correlates with increases in opioid-related overdose fatalities in over 40 states. Forty percent of adults in the United States have also reported an increase in mental distress and illness, substance use and thoughts of suicide. Initial studies suggest that one in five people who survive COVID-19 may develop a mental illness. Lastly, economic vulnerability and job loss are also linked with increased rates of mental distress, substance use and relapse.

Employers have an essential role to play in helping their employees through these challenges. The workplace is a key environment for reaching employees, families and communities to help prevent further opioid misuse, addiction and overdose, and to help those already affected. Once an employer has used the cost calculator to learn more about the individual needs of their workforce, they can utilize the NSC Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit to implement a series of changes to address substance use, including engaging and educating employees, training managers and supervisors, ensuring robust HR policies and benefits structures, and supporting a workplace culture of health and wellness that promotes recovery.

Learning about your workforce is the first step to making a significant impact on the wellbeing of your employees and community. Employers can truly make a difference in helping people live their fullest lives. Learn more at nsc.org/drugsatwork.

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