If today’s employers are finding that employee engagement is especially low, it may be because some of their employees are high. A new study released this summer by Quest Diagnostics, a provider of diagnostic information services, reveals that workplace drug use is the highest it’s been in more than a decade.

While prescription opioid rates have declined sharply across the nation, the on-the-job use of cocaine, amphetamines and marijuana has risen sharply, especially in certain regions. Here are a few specific findings from the Quest Diagnostics study:

  • Cocaine use has increased for the fifth consecutive year, including double-digit year-over-year increases in Nebraska, Idea, Washington, Nevada, Maryland and Wisconsin.
  • Between 2013 and 2017, methamphetamine use has increased 167% in parts of the Midwest, 160% in parts of the South, 150% in areas of the Northeast and 140% in the Southwest.

If you still think drug use has yet to reach your employees, consider these disturbing stats from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence:

  • 70% of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed.
  • Of those 70%, more than 42% admit that their work productivity suffers due to their use.

“The significant drop in opiate use is a promising sign,” said Matt Nieman, General Counsel, Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace. “Yet, the ten-year high rates serves as a stark warning that efforts to prevent substance abuse in the workplace are as important today as ever.”

The Opioid Problem is Not Over

The drop in opioid use doesn’t mean the opioid problem has gone away. Opioid prescriptions have nearly quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the drugs legitimately help people manage pain, they are also still very addictive. The National Institute on Drug Abuse provides plenty of scary facts to illustrate our point:

  • Roughly 21 to 29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • Between 8 and 12% develop an opioid use disorder.
  • An estimated 4 to 6% who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
  • Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids.

Drug Use is Expensive, Too

These trends aren’t just disturbing on a human level. They’re costing employers – and society at large – a lot of money. Crain’s Detroit Business points out that, in 2013, opioid abuse alone cost businesses $16.3 billion just in disability claims and lowered productivity.

Tess Benham, of the National Safety Council, reminds us there’s also a high cost in absenteeism. Where the average worker misses about ten days per year, those abusing pain medication or using heroin miss an average of 29 days of work per year.

When you consider the combination of lowered productivity, higher health care, substance abuse treatment costs and missed work, you have a total economic burden of $78.5 billion, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Curtis S. Florence, who led the research, adds, “And that’s definitely a conservative estimate.”

What Can Employers Do to Help?

Common sense says that employers need to be part of the solution. First, however, they need to admit there’s a problem. In a survey by the National Safety Council, seven in ten employers reported on-the-job drug abuse issues ranging from absenteeism to overdose. Yet, only 24% said it was an issue.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has some clear, practical advice for employers, all centered on encouraging and supporting treatment. Here are some specific ways they say employers can address substance use and abuse in the workplace:

  • Implement a drug-free workplace and other substance abuse policies.
  • Offer health benefits that provide comprehensive coverage for substance use disorders, including aftercare and counseling.
  • Reduce the stigma of getting help through education and communication. You can read more about steps we’ve seen work in this blog on Reducing The Stigma Of Mental Health.
  • Educate employees about the health and productivity hazards of substance abuse through company wellness programs.

While all these policies and programs will help, the NCADD has one strong recommendation. “ “Without question, establishment of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is the most effective way to address alcohol and drug problems in the workplace,” says the NCADD. “EAPs deal with all kinds of problems and provide short-term counseling, assessment and referrals for employees with alcohol and drug abuse problems.”

At Espyr, we also understand the power of EAPs. But as a leading behavioral health company we’re continuously innovating to find new solutions to behavioral health issues. For example, we’re leading the way with a suite of coaching programs to encourage employees to ask for help when they need it or when traditional counseling isn’t required. We’ve developed innovative new approaches like Spotlight™, a behavioral health coaching and proprietary data analytics platform. Spotlight is able to proactively identify and aid employees (and their dependents) that may need assistance with drug abuse and other healthcare issues. It can more than pay for itself in reduced absenteeism, increased employee engagement, increased employee retention and a reduction in healthcare costs of up to 20%.

Espyr is offering Spotlight with partners such as Fairbanks Employer Services, one of the oldest and most highly regarded alcohol and drug treatment centers in America. With this new marketing partnership, Fairbanks will offer this technology to their portfolio of client companies under the name Fairbanks Spotlight™.

For more information on how Espyr can help you achieve a drug-free work environment, call Espyr at 888-570-3749 or go to espyr.com.