For Immediate Release
February 5, 2019

Employers face unknowns of opioids in the workplace 

While opioid-related claims trickle up, 52% of employers unsure of prevalence in their workplace

Brookfield, Wisconsin—The opioid crisis continues to sweep across Canada, and workplaces are feeling the impact. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Benefits: 2018 Survey Results, a report from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, reveals how organizations are reacting and responding to the current environment.

While more strategies are in place for preventing and treating opioid abuse in the workplace, organizations continue to face many unknowns. When asked about the prevalence of prescription drug addiction/substance abuse in their organization, 52 percent of employers were not sure.

Conducting a claims analysis is one way to measure the prevalence of opioid abuse in the workplace but only 19 percent of organizations have done so. Sixty-six percent have not and 15 percent have not but are considering.

Compared to one year ago, organizations conducting claims analyses reported the following changes in opioid-related claims:

  • Significantly increased (11% increase or more): none
  • Moderately increased (6-10%): 12%
  • Slightly increased (1-5%): 15%
  • No change: 67%

Opioid-related claims compared to five years ago:

  • Significantly increased: 7%
  • Moderately increased: 10%
  • Slightly increased: 13%
  • No change: 58%

“Taking measures to prevent and treat substance abuse is critical for an organization and can possibly be life-saving for employees and their families,” said Julie Stich, CEBS, Associate Vice President of Content at the International Foundation.

Stich added that opioid abuse, whether it’s for an employee, or an employee’s spouse or child, causes lost productivity, increased absenteeism and disability claims, and increased prescription drug and medical expenses. Together, these have significant impact on an employer's bottom line.

Employers are exercising the following tactics to manage the growing number of opioid-related claims:

  • Alternative pain management treatments are offered (e.g., osteopathic manipulative treatment): 18%
  • Having Narcan® (naloxone HCI, an opioid antidote used in the event of overdose) available at the worksite: 9%
  • Revising company policies regarding substance abuse: 11%
  • Fraud tip hotline: 2%

“Employers are tasked with the challenge of finding and continually reassessing the most effective ways to identify someone in crisis, to see they get appropriate care and then to reintroduce them to the workplace and manage their work,” explained Stich.

Common barriers organizations encounter while implementing/advancing substance abuse initiatives include:

  • Worker fear that admitting a problem may negatively impact their job security: 39%
  • Worker fear about confidentiality: 39%
  • Workers do not acknowledge/are not ready to address their problems: 33%.

Returning to work after an absence due to substance abuse can be difficult for both employees and their co-workers. The most common strategies employers have implemented to help ease this transition include flexible/gradual return to work if desired/needed (53%), case management (48%) and preparatory, prereturn conversations with returning worker (39%).

For more information and to access the full Mental Health and Substance Abuse Benefits report, visit


The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans is the premier educational organization dedicated to providing the diverse employee benefits community with objective, solution-oriented education, research and information to ensure the health and financial security of plan beneficiaries worldwide. The Foundation has more than 31,500 multiemployer, corporate and public sector members representing over 25 million lives. For additional information, visit 

Anne Patterson | (262) 373-7614