Lorain County employers consider addiction in workplace

By Richard Payerchin, The Morning Journal

There are a number of practical steps business owners and managers can use to help workers battling addiction to opioids, said a leader of the National Safety Council.

Jane Terry, senior director for government affairs for the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit, spoke May 30 in Lorain County about addressing addiction in the workplace. Her presentation was hosted by the Philanthropic and Community Coalition to End the Opioid Epidemic, a group of local agencies banding together to help people fighting addiction to heroin and prescription painkillers.

About two dozen people gathered for the talk at the Spitzer Center of Lorain County Community College. The group was “cozy” in size but it is important to continue spreading the word about treatment options for those dealing with addiction, said Terry and coalition leader Dr. Donald Sheldon.

Terry asked for a show of hands to see how many audience members recalled a time when people spoke about cancer in hushed voices.

That stigma of cancer has declined in society because people are willing to talk about the disease. Now is the time to talk about addiction in the community and workplace to remove the stigma associated with it, Terry said.

“Because it’s by talking about it, recognizing it as a disease, not a decision, that we actually come face to face with it and figure out ways we can work together to deal with this problem,” she said.

The National Safety Council is committed to eliminating preventable deaths, Terry said. The organization was founded 100 years ago and now has about 14,000 members.

In 2016, the council logged 5,190 workplace deaths, Terry said. Vehicular crashes was the single largest cause, but drug overdose rates increased 30 percent, especially among men and women age 25 to 34, prime working years, she said.

Employers must deal with the human cost and financial costs, Terry said. Depending on the size of the business, lost time, job turnover and training, and healthcare costs can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, she said.

Those costs may include lost productivity among workers who deal with distractions because of family members dealing with addictions, Terry said.

The council has developed an online “Prescription Drug Employer Kit” with free resources for businesses to use to prevent and help treat addiction in the workplace, Terry said.

Among her suggestions:

• Develop clear policies about drug-free workplaces and opioid use.

• Educate employees about the potential dangers of opioid use and abuse. At least one study has found a combination of acetaminophen and ibruprofen is more effective for pain relief than some prescription drugs.

• Education for employees could assist them in becoming better consumers of medicines overall.

Terry recounted her own experience of eye surgery and a doctor who insisted she take home a prescription for a painkiller. She added she did not want the drug and she later burned the note so no one else could use it to obtain the medicine.

Add “warn me” labels to prescription drug cards. These can be small adhesive labels add to employees’ cards asking doctors or pharmacists to advise about potential effects of prescription drugs.

• Supervisor training can help staff detect coworkers dealing with addiction.

• Drug testing for workers could include tests for the presence of opioids. That testing method may be available at little or no added cost, Terry said.

The session included audience response about various programs taking place in Lorain County to help residents deal with opioid and heroin addiction.

Sheldon offered updates on at least four projects that take aim directly at the opioid crisis.

Lorain County continues planning for the Recovery One center, a new residential treatment facility in the former Golden Acres Nursing Home. A needle exchange program is planned in Wellington, he said.

The local coalition also wants to improve access to medically assisted treatment, which uses drugs to control cravings for people in recovery so they respond better to counseling, Sheldon said.

The coalition members also have reached out to Lorain County school districts to create consistent anti-drug messages for students across the county, he said.

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