Save money and save lives: focusing on addiction in the workplace


It is that time of year — the annual process of designing your company’s fiscal year budget. Grow revenue. Identify efficiencies. Invest in productivity-enhancing capital items. Forecast your company’s FY profit.

A significant factor in the budgeting process is health care, and you likely have read many headlines to know that addiction is a serious health threat to society and your business.

Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that affects both the brain and behavior, according to the Surgeon General. It’s known to change the structures of the brain, including the cortex, limbic system and brain stem — impacting decision-making, impulse control and emotional regulation. Compulsive use of drugs and/or alcohol changes how brain structures interact with one another.

The bad news is that at least 1 in 10 of your employees is in active addiction, and the annual cost in the United States exceeds $81 billion annually. One research consortium pegs the annual addiction-related costs to a 500-employee construction company at $205,000 and the costs in the manufacturing sector at $170,000.The good news is that this chronic condition can be managed with the help of evidence-based clinical and medical interventions.

Addressing addiction amongst your workforce should be taken seriously. Why?

Health care costs for employees with substance use disorder (SUD) are estimated to be twice that of other employees. Employees with SUD are at risk for brain damage; memory loss; stroke; liver, throat, gastrointestinal, breast and pancreatic cancer; cirrhosis; muscle wasting; respiratory infection; and anemia.

SUD in the workforce also leads to lost productivity, turnover, potential employee theft and a negative effect on company culture. Workers with SUD miss nearly 50% more days annually than their peers. Conversely, workers in recovery from SUD miss fewer days from work than any other group.

SUD also can lead to workplace accidents and legal risk to the employer. People who use substances in the workplace are three times more likely to be involved in workplace accidents. Additionally, 1 in 5 workers reports being injured or put in danger due to a coworker’s drinking or drug use on the job.

As employers, professionals and community members, it’s on all of us to address addiction in the workplace to support those in need while enhancing revenue, finding efficiencies and raising productivity. We must address addiction in the workplace with the same attention as we would the purchase of a new companywide software upgrade or the opening of a new sales territory. Consider the following:

  • Consult with an expert, preferably an organization that has both medical and clinical experience in addressing substance use disorder

  • Ask your insurance company or manager of your self-funded plan what treatment options are covered by your policy

  • Confirm your health plan addresses addiction as a chronic condition that requires ongoing clinical and medical attention

While not everyone requires residential treatment, insist that employees have access to places with a full continuum of care — detox, residential, outpatient, private counseling and medically assisted treatment.

Addiction is a serious matter. Its toll on our society and American businesses is greater than our collective statistical comprehension. Please give it the attention that it deserves — for your company and for your employees.

David Green is co-founder and CEO of Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers in Grand Rapids.

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