Obama Announces Initiative to Help Intercede in Opioid Epidemic

By Sarah Sipek

Feb. 2, 2016

I wrote a story for the February issue of Workforce on the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse in the workplace. And it didn’t take much research to find out that opioid abuse is a major problem for U.S. employers.

In 2015 alone, almost 2 million Americans aged 12 and older either abused or were dependent on opioid pain relievers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Society of Addiction Medicine estimates that opiate misuse costs the U.S. economy $55.7 billion a year, with employers shouldering nearly half of that cost. In addition, they lose an average of $10 billion from lost work and productivity alone.

Today President Obama took steps to ease the burden on employers and keep the nation safe.

The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it will seek $1.1 billion in new budget funding over the next two years to fight the epidemic. The government has currently budgeted $400 million to battle opioid abuse in 2016 alone – up $100 million on what the federal government spent on the same task in 2015.

"This president has made clear that addressing this opioid epidemic is a priority for him, and this budget reflects this," said Michael Botticelli, the director of National Drug Control Policy under President Barack Obama. Botticelli said that the additional funding request "underscores the urgency of additional action that we need to take."

Opioids were involved in 28,648 fatalities in 2014, according to figures cited by the White House.

Most of the proposed new funding, $920 million, would be earmarked for cooperative agreements the federal government has with individual states to "expand access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders," the White House said in a statement.

The amount of money states would receive would depend "on the severity of the epidemic" and the strength of a state's strategy to respond to the funding.

In the meantime, there are steps employers can take to both protect their employees against addiction and aid in their recovery.

Liz Griggs, president of Canterbury Healthcare, recommends early engagement and education of employees about what addiction looks like and how to avoid it.

If addiction is already an issue, employers need a plan in place to provide employees with access to resources such as detox centers and counselors, often through employee assistance programs. 

For more information on steps employers can take to effectively address opioid addiction in the workplace, check out this month’s feature, “Pain Points.” 

Sarah Sipek is a Workforce associate editor.

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