The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation is launching a pilot program next month in Montgomery, Ross and Scioto counties “to support employers willing to hire workers struggling to overcome an addiction to opioids and other dangerous substances,” according to a statement from the BWC. In the two-year, $5 million program, the agency will partner with county boards of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health to identify eligible employers and employees, allocate funds, and measure the program’s success. The program will include:
- Reimbursement for pre-employment, random and reasonable suspicion drug testing;
- Training for managers/supervisors to help them better manage a workforce that includes individuals in recovery;
- A forum/venue for “second-chance” employers to share success stories that will encourage others to hire workers in recovery.
Under the program, BWC will allot a lump sum to each ADAMH board on a quarterly basis. Employers must pay for expenses up front and apply to the boards for reimbursement. Program details are still under development, with changes likely as the pilot progresses. The pilot’s launch is scheduled for Oct. 15.
Ohio has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, with addiction, abuse and overdose deaths costing the state between $6.6 billion and $8.8 billion a year, the bureau adds, citing a 2017 report from the Ohio State University, which also estimated that there were likely 92,000 to 170,000 Ohioans abusing or dependent on opioids in 2015. Montgomery County, centered around Dayton, recorded 521 accidental overdose deaths in 2017, the highest in the state for the second year in a row, while the other two counties participating in the pilot programs have often counted large numbers of overdoses in recent years.
The state program will augment ongoing local efforts in Ross County, the Chillicothe Gazette reports:
In a new report, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health finds that construction workers made up nearly one quarter of workers in the state who died from opioid-related overdoses between 2011 and 2015. Workers in the farming, fishing, and forestry occupation (mostly fishing) had a similarly high rate of overdose deaths compared to the general population, while warehouse, transportation, maintenance, food service, and health care support workers also died from opioid overdoses at above-average rates.
The study, funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found a noteworthy gender gap in the occupational profiles of overdose victims. Most of the construction workers counted in the study were male, and men in the construction, agricultural, and material moving occupations experienced opioid-related deaths at a higher than average rate for male workers in Massachusetts. Among women, however, the highest rates were among healthcare support and food preparation/service workers.
A common thread among the occupations with high rates of overdose deaths is a greater propensity for workplace injuries in these industries, the report notes:
The rate of fatal opioid-related overdose was higher among workers employed in industries and occupations known to have high rates of work-related injuries and illnesses. This finding is consistent with previous research documenting common use of prescribed opioids for management of acute and chronic pain following work-related injury. The rate was also higher among workers in occupations with lower availability of paid sick leave and lower job security. More in-depth research is needed to characterize the potential contribution of these factors to opioid misuse and overdose.
Experts and advocates for occupational safety in Massachusetts tell the Boston Globe they’re not surprised by these findings:
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The health insurance company Cigna announced a new initiative last week in which it is “intensifying its commitment to curtail the opioid epidemic by focusing new drug prevention and treatment efforts in targeted US communities.” Cigna said its goal was to reduce the number of opioid overdoses among its customers in these communities by 25 percent by December 2021:
Initially, Cigna will focus its local efforts in areas where a sizable number of Cigna commercial customers reside and where there are higher than average overdose rates, including communities in the states of Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia and in the metropolitan areas of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The goal is to reduce prescription and illicit opioid overdoses in these areas, and Cigna will advance initiatives that impact both Cigna customers and the communities at large. To support this initiative, Cigna and the Cigna Foundation will expand and accelerate the impact of community-based organizations that are leading localized programs. Cigna intends to learn from initial efforts during the three year time period and expand to other communities over time.
The main channel for these efforts is through health care providers, with whom Cigna is working to limit the prescription of opioid pain medication, address warning signs of opioid addiction, and guide patients toward less dangerous pain management options. Most US adults receive health insurance coverage through their employers, so partnerships with employers are also a key component of this effort, Cigna added:
Belden Inc., a manufacturer of electronic networking equipment based in St. Louis, Missouri, faces the same labor market issue as most other industrial employers in the Midwest, including the challenge of hiring and retaining workers for safety-sensitive roles in places where opioid addiction has reached epidemic proportions. Belden’s CEO John Stroup is taking an innovative approach to tackling the opioid problem at his company’s factory in Richmond, Indiana, where this past winter, one in ten applicants failed their drug tests, as did several people already employed there. At CNN Money last week, Lydia DePillis profiled Stroup’s efforts to give these workers a second chance:
For Stroup, the decision was a simple cost-benefit analysis: How much would it cost to help people get sober in this Rust Belt town of 37,000, compared to what he was losing by not having them available to work? After a few meetings with board members and addiction experts, he came up with a plan. If an applicant or a current employee failed a drug test, but they still wanted the job, Belden would pay for an evaluation at a local substance abuse treatment center.
People deemed to have a low risk of developing an addiction could spend two months in a non-dangerous job before they are allowed to operate heavy equipment again, as long as they passed periodic random drug tests for the rest of their time at the company. People at high risk would spend two months in an intensive outpatient monitoring and treatment program, with the promise of a job at the end if they made sufficient progress. On average, Belden figured it would have to shell out about $5,000 for each person it gave a second chance to.
The experiment started in March and has so far had eight participants. Two at-risk current employees made it through the monitoring period and are back to work, while others are still being evaluated. It will take a few more months to see if the program really works, but the few Belden employees who spoke to DePillis said they were heartened to see the company trying to help current and prospective employees with opioid issues recover rather than discarding them.
Naloxone, commonly sold under the brand name Narcan and available without a prescription in every US state except Nebraska, is an opioid receptor antagonist used to treat overdoses of heroin and other opiates. Delivered via injection or a nasal spray, the drug has been credited with saving many addicts’ lives and has lately been the subject of numerous awareness campaigns in the US urging people who interact frequently with opioid users to have the antidote on hand and know how to administer it.
Last month, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams urged employers to stock naloxone at worksites as well, and train employees on how to use it, Allen Smith reported at SHRM:
“For a heart attack, we train employees how to do CPR until the paramedics arrive,” Adams noted April 19 in Washington, D.C, at Business Health Agenda 2018, a conference sponsored by the National Business Group on Health, speaking about the opioid epidemic. “Why is that not the case with naloxone and Narcan? We need to make these emergency treatments as ubiquitous as knowing CPR and calling for a defibrillator when someone is having a heart attack, or using an EpiPen when someone’s having an allergic reaction.”
Even before the surgeon general’s statement, a few clients of Nancy Delogu, an attorney with Littler in Washington, D.C., made naloxone available at work. They made this decision after employees overdosed on opioids at work. …
Drug use among US employees has been increasing in recent years, with marijuana accounting for about half of the American workforce’s illegal drug habits. With a tight talent market, greater mainstream acceptance, and state-level legalization of marijuana, some employers have begun relaxing their drug testing policies, abandoning the zero-tolerance approach in favor of case-by-case judgments. The biggest substance abuse problems in the US, however, are not illegal drugs but rather alcohol and prescription opioid painkillers. Opioid addiction, as well as the underlying physical health issues that lead to these drugs being prescribed, has been persuasively identified as a significant driver of the decline in American workforce participation rates, particularly among men in what ought to be their prime working years.
Even more disconcerting is that the number of US employees dying from drug- or alcohol-related causes while at work has also risen sharply in recent years. While in absolute terms, those numbers remain very small, the rapid rate of increase is cause for concern, Gillian B. White warned at the Atlantic last month:
Last year alone, the number of workers who died at work because of drug- or alcohol-abuse-related incidents increased by more than 30 percent, to more than 200. While that number may seem small, it’s evidence of how rapidly the problem is growing—less than five years ago, fewer than 70 people died from overdoses at work. Since 2012, the number of people dying from drug or alcohol related causes while on the job has been growing by at least 25 percent each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. …
A tight market for qualified workers is making some US employers rethink their approaches to employee drug use, relaxing zero-tolerance policies for jobs that are not safety-sensitive, Steve Bates reports at SHRM:
Low unemployment and increasing use of illegal drugs are narrowing the pool of qualified workers in many regions and industries. State laws allowing medical and recreational use of marijuana are complicating recruiters’ efforts to find drug-free employees, as is the continued abuse of prescription opioids.
There are no indications that employers are relaxing standards for jobs that are safety-critical. Some such positions, including airline pilots and truck drivers, are regulated by the federal government and have strict prohibitions against drug use. However, HR and drug testing industry leaders say some employers are taking a new look at—and in some cases relaxing—their drug policies for positions that entail relatively low risk of injury or error, such as clerical and knowledge economy jobs.
What many of these employers are doing, it seems, is replacing the zero-tolerance approach with a more flexible standard that allows for case-by-case judgments about individual candidates or employees. Softer drug policies can also be a part of employers’ efforts to help address the crisis of addiction to opioid pain medication in the US. One Indiana company, for example, began testing its employees for opioids as well as training managers to identify signs of painkiller abuse, so that employees who are using these drugs can be directed to treatment if needed and moved out of safety-sensitive roles.