Your Old Drug Policy Is Costing You Money

Most organizations’ drug policies were written prior to the nation’s current drug epidemic. Updates are now needed to go beyond the punitive nature of most policies and include support for recovery. Such updates reduce your costs and make you a more attractive employer.

This post examines the current cost of the nation’s rampant Substance Use Disorder (SUD), the state of readiness to deal with it, and an approach to improving the current situation.

The Cost of Substance Use Disorder to Employers

Studies have emerged from prominent organizations like The Society of Actuaries, The Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the National Safety Council that outline the cost of SUD to employers. Here are several important statistics:

  • Workplace overdose deaths accounted for 5.3% of all workplace fatalities in 2017 compared to 1.8% in 2013.1
  • The opioid epidemic cost employers $96 billion between 2015 and 2018.2
  • Employees with SUD are absent 15 days per year on average. Of that group, those with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) miss 29 days. People without SUD miss an average of 10.5 days per year.3
  • The duration of disability for workers who receive opioid medication is three times as long as workers with similar injuries who do not receive an opioid prescription.4
  • The average cost of a claim that includes an opioid prescription is four times the average claim that does not include an opioid prescription.5
  • 31% of employers surveyed by the National Safety Council report having had an overdose, an arrest, a near-miss, or an injury due to opioid use by an employee.6
  • The productivity cost of Alcohol Use Disorder is $179 billion per year.7
  • The average cost of an employee’s medical expense and lost wages is $13,000. That cost triples to $39,000 when a short-acting opioid like Percocet is prescribed. It triples again to $117,000 if a long-acting opioid like OxyContin is prescribed.8

Outdated drug policies that do not encourage recovery could even cost a life. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 272 people died from a substance overdose while at work in 2017 – an increase of over 25% from 2016. The number has been rising by more than 25% for each of the last five years.

How Ready Are Employers to Deal with SUD?

Here are results from a National Safety Council survey of employers:

  • 75% of employers report that they have been affected by opioids, but only 17% feel extremely well prepared to deal with the problem.9
  • 80% of employers have an EAP. However, only 51% of those employers have the EAP help develop a plan to address and treat employees with abuse issues.9
  • Only 24% of employers offer training about prescription drugs.10

So, most employers state that they are being impacted but are not well prepared to deal with the issue of SUD. Some counties report that 10% of opioid overdose reversal are for employees in a place of business.

Certain Measures Have Benefits

Some good news:

  • Establishing guidelines for opioid dosing decreases prescription opioid use among injured workers.11
  • The number of opioids being prescribed has been going down over the last few years.
  • Employees who have SUD and are in recovery are absent on average 9.5 days per year compared to 10.5 days for employees without SUD.12

That last fact is particularly interesting. Not only do employees with SUD in recovery have less absenteeism that employees with SUD and not in recovery, which is not surprising, but they also have less absenteeism than employees who never had SUD. Perhaps this fact speaks to the strength of character shown by people who have SUD and are able to achieve and maintain recovery.

Recovery Friendly Workplaces

Becoming a Recovery Friendly Workplace helps to address the cost, the health, and the stigma of SUD. One in three people in the USA are significantly impacted by SUD.

A Recovery Friendly Workplace has the following characteristics:

  • Supervisors are trained to handle SUD-related issues
  • Employees are trained on SUD, on drug policies, and on the recovery help that is available
  • Treatment referrals are provided to employees with SUD and are made available to loved ones of employees
  • The employer supports evidence-based treatment
  • SUD-related assistance is provided by the EAP
  • Recovery is integrated into health and safety committees

Furthermore, recovery is contagious. Employees with SUD at your company may know other employees with SUD. One person’s journey of recovery can help another person’s efforts.

Becoming a Recovery Friendly Workplace will go a long way toward reducing costs as well as making employees healthier and happier.


  1. The Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  2. The Society of Actuaries.
  3. National Center for Health Statistics.
  4. Workers Compensation Research Institute.
  5. NCCI.
  6. National Safety Council.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (72% of $249B = $179B.)
  8. The New York Times.
  9. National Safety Council.
  10. National Safety Council.
  11. NCBI.
  12. National Center for Health Statistics.

About the Author: Louis Lamoureux

Louis is the Founder of Recovery Friendly Workplaces Inc. He is author of Granville Street, a novel which examines the lives of four people impacted by the opioid epidemic over one fateful week. Louis is also available for speaking engagements about SUD in the workplace.
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