Helping your clients navigate the opioid epidemic

The opioid crisis is no longer just a crisis–it’s a full-blown epidemic. Opioid overdoses lead to more than 130 deaths every day in the U.S.1 That’s one death every 11 minutes. And the problem hits close to home in the Northeast. On average, New England states spend over 25% more than other states on opioid-related costs.2 Since this epidemic directly affects businesses’ profitability, it’s important to give your clients the tools they need to keep their businesses safe and employees healthy.

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What's happening?

It’s not just at-risk communities who are at risk. Addictions often begin when opioids are prescribed for things like chronic pain and recovery from surgery. When patients aren’t given the resources they need to properly take and manage opioids, the results can be shocking. “It’s not a defect of character,” says Bill Brewster, VP of Harvard Pilgrim’s New Hampshire market, “It is like any other illness that anybody has.” Dr. Brewster has seen the effects of this issue firsthand, when his son struggled with an opioid addiction. “This is not them; this is us,” Dr. Brewster states in The New Hampshire Union Leader. “We’re all in this together.”

In a 2015 review of health care data, 21-29% of patients who were prescribed opioids for chronic pain ended up misusing them.3 And this misuse only continues to rise in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the U.S. spends $78.5 billion a year on prescription opioid misuse alone, including the cost of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.4 In fact, 1/3 of Americans say they know someone who is or has been addicted to opioids,5 so it’s important for your clients to consider that an employee may have a family member who’s struggling—and who could be on their health plan.

Hidden financial risks

One employee working under the influence is a risk to your client’s business and entire workforce, whether they’re writing up a proposal, interacting with a client, or operating heavy machinery. But while the physical risks of drug abuse can be obvious, the financial risks can be harder to see. Employees prescribed even one opioid pill were found to cost four times more in workers’ comp claims than those who weren’t prescribed any.6 And employers of all settings are facing rising costs. Missed work days and lost productivity due to the abuse of prescription painkillers costs employers an estimated $25.6 billion a year.7

Prevention and support

Health insurance companies can be a critical advocate for empowering businesses and employees impacted by opioids. They can partner with physicians and pharmacists to work together when a patient requires opioids to make sure non-opioid options are considered and covered as alternatives. Many offer free benefits that can help employees or their family members on a personal level, like nurse care managers who can work with their members to find alternative solutions for chronic pain, and personal health coaches who can help patients manage their prescription opioid intake. Health insurance companies can also be a good resource for people looking for support groups and other services dedicated to overcoming addiction.

While the economic burden is clear, what’s happening on the ground floor is not. Addiction is personal, emotional, and often invisible. On top of that, a person’s health is a private matter, so confronting someone about a suspected addiction could result in legal issues for your clients. But by offering them a health insurance company that will partner with them to offer resources for prevention and addiction support, you can help them keep their businesses and their employees safe from risk.

See what services and solutions you can offer your clients to prevent addiction, treat a problem, and find support in the opioid epidemic.

Learn More
  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January). Opioid Overdose Crisis.
  2. Sullivan, R. (2018, May). The fiscal impact of the opioid epidemic in the New England states.
  3. Vowles, K. E. McEntee, M. L. Julnes, P. S. Frohe, T. Ney, J. P. van der Goes, D. N. (2015, April). Rates of opioid misuse, abuse, and addiction in chronic pain: a systematic review and data synthesis.
  4. Florence, C. S. Zhou, C. Luo, F. Xu, L. (2016, October). The Economic Burden of Prescription Opioid Overdose, Abuse, and Dependence in the United States, 2013.
  5. American Psychiatric Association. (2018, May 7). Nearly one in three people know someone addicted to opioids; more than half of millennials believe it is easy to get illegal opioids.
  6. White, J. A. Tao, X. Tairefa, M. Tower, J. Bernacki, E. (2012, August). The effect of opioid use on workers' compensation claim cost in the State of Michigan.
  7. Birnbaum, H.G. White, A. G., Schiller M., Waldman T., Cleveland J. M., Roland C. L. (2011, April 15). Societal Costs of Prescription Opioid Abuse, Dependence, and Misuse in the United States.