January 9, 2017

Employers Feel the Impact of the Opioid Epidemic

New Report Examines Actions Taken by Employers to Combat Substance Abuse

Brookfield, WisconsinThe opioid epidemic has found its way into the workplace with employers evolving their benefits offerings to help fight prescription drug abuse, according to a new report from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Benefits: 2016 Survey Results reports that to combat prescription drug abuse, employers have implemented a number of initiatives including:

  • Requiring prior authorization of outpatient opioid prescriptions in excess of a specific number of days (43%)
  • Providing alternative pain management treatments (17%)
  • Offering a fraud tip hotline (8%)
  • Requiring written permission from a health care provider before a prescription is switched from an abuse-deterrent drug to one that is not (5%)
  • Monitoring hospital discharges to look for drug abuse events (5%).

Additionally, one in four employers (26%) has conducted a prescription drug claims analysis to identify possible abuse, and nearly that many (24%) are considering a claims analysis.

"Addiction is not an easy problem for employers to tackle," explained Julie Stich, CEBS, associate vice president of content at the International Foundation. "Employees who are struggling with substance abuse issues are often doing so in secret. They may fear that admitting a problem will cost them their job."

Employers are supporting workers who are dealing with substance abuse by providing a number of treatment options. Of organizations providing substance abuse treatment benefits, 89% cover outpatient in-person treatment sessions, and 85% include inpatient hospital or clinic treatment. Other commonly provided options include prescription drug therapies (67%), inpatient residential treatment centers (67%), outpatient telemedicine treatment services (55%) and referrals to community services (41%).

Many employers also provide support through employee assistance programs (EAPs) and wellness programs that include a substance abuse component.

"Substance abuse is costly for employers—reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and disability claims, and increased prescription drug and medical expenses add up to have a significant impact on an employer's bottom line," said Stich. "Taking measures to prevent and treat substance abuse is beneficial to an organization and possibly life-saving for employees and their families."

A third of employers (33%) reports that prescription drug addiction is at least somewhat prevalent among their workforce and the majority (67%) believe that substance abuse challenges are greater now than five years ago.

View the report Mental Health and Substance Abuse Benefits: 2016 Survey Results at www.ifebp.org/mentalhealth.


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 33,000 multiemployer, corporate and public sector members representing over 25 million lives. For additional information, visit www.ifebp.org.