Drugs at Work Home - National Safety Council

Drugs at Work: What Employers Need to Know

Nearly 21 million Americans are living with a substance use disorder (SUD), according to the U.S. Surgeon General. Three-quarters of those struggling with alcohol, opioids, cannabis and other substances are employed. Workers with SUDs may miss nearly 50% more work days than their peers – up to six weeks annually – and absenteeism leads to losses in productivity.

Employers Are Key in Recognizing, Stopping Substance Misuse

The White House Council of Economic Advisors further estimated that the opioid crisis alone cost the U.S. economy $696 billion in 2018. Employers are becoming more aware of the problem. In a National Safety Council survey, 86% of employers were concerned that prescription opioid use was having a negative impact on their workplace, and 74% were concerned about heroin and fentanyl having a negative impact on their workplace.

What Employers Told Us

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. 

An NSC survey focused on opioids in the workplace found:

  • Employers were most concerned about the costs of benefits (86%), ability to hire qualified workers (90%) and costs of workers' compensation (86%), compared to misuse of opioids (79%-83%, depending on the type of opioids) and illegal drug sale or use (75%)
  • Over 75% of employers have been affected in some way by employee opioid use, with 38% experiencing impacts related to absenteeism or impaired worker performance
  • Only 17% of employers believe their organization is extremely well prepared to deal with opioid use in the workplace
  • While employee training and education is a main driver of preparedness, only 28% of employers offer opioid-specific training and education to their workforce

How Employers Can Make a Difference

NSC and NORC found health care costs for employees who have a substance use disorder are almost double the costs of an average employee with no SUD. The annual cost of an untreated SUD ranges from an average of $8,255 to $14,000 per employee, depending on their industry and role.

Employers can take simple steps to protect themselves and their employees, such as:

  • Recognizing the impact of drug misuse on the bottom line
  • Educating and engaging their workforce on the topic of opioids
  • Enacting clear and strong company drug-free workplace policies, and ensuring consistent and comprehensive communication with employees
  • Expanding drug panel testing to include opioids
  • Training supervisors and employees to spot the first signs of drug misuse and impairment
  • Treating substance use disorders as a medical condition that can and should be treated, and ensuring evidence-based treatment mechanisms are covered by employer health care plans
  • Leveraging employee assistance programs and other similar resources to help employees return to work, and supporting employees in recovery

Implications for Employers

Employers might not know where to start when evaluating how to implement or update a drug-free workplace program. See Implications for Employers for an overview.