Approaches to Employee Substance Abuse

Addiction and substance abuse can limit the pool of applicants for a job in the cannabis industry, increase healthcare costs and hurt employee productivity. Opioid addiction has been in the media spotlight lately, but alcohol and other prescription and over-the-counter drugs also cause problems in the dispensary workplace.

Some experts say that current approaches don’t serve cannabis industry employees or employers well. Policies around substance abuse often focus on restricting the use and may lead to employees being fired. Employees may refuse to seek help because they’re afraid of using employer-sponsored benefits, such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

And employers struggling to attract and retain talent may be losing people who could benefit from addiction treatment and recovery and return to work as productive employees. Working with addiction experts and treatment providers to develop an addiction-treatment program for job candidates in the cannabis industry.

If applicants fail the drug test, they have the option of entering the treatment program. Once they complete that initial assessment, those who are deemed to have a high probability of future substance abuse can choose a longer and more involved treatment program that’s personalized for the individual.

Current employees can also volunteer to enter the program. Once a job applicant completes the initial program, he or she begins working at the cannabis business in a limited role, such as in data entry, until deemed ready to assume the machine operator role for which they were hired.

Drug testing should continue for up to 18 months after a worker completes the program. To avoid problems with medical privacy issues, it is recommended cannabis industry employees sign a waiver that allows sharing of certain medical information. Employers interested in taking a similar approach should check with legal counsel about their responsibilities in this area.

Recovery-Support Benefits

A recent study conducted by the Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker found that large employers spent $2.6 billion in 2016 to treat opioid addiction and overdoses, up from $300 million in 2004, a more than nine-fold increase.

The costs of addiction of all kinds in terms of lost productivity, absenteeism, and workplace accidents are even greater and reach into the tens of billions of dollars, other studies have found.

At a minimum, employers can:

  • Talk to insurance carriers and pharmacy benefit managers about how to design a plan to help prevent prescription drug addiction.
  • Introduce prescription monitoring programs to make sure no worker is taking certain addictive medications for too long.
  • Many employer health plans now limit opioid prescriptions to seven days. However, even that may be too long, and it is recommended that the first fill for opioids be limited to three days to prevent addiction. This is particularly important for people under age 26, given that teenagers and young adults may be more susceptible to addiction.

Another key issue is access to treatment. Does the plan’s network have enough providers that offer addiction treatment, can take on new patients, and are located where employees live? It’s a good idea to work with insurance carriers or third-party administrators to identify centers of excellence for addiction recovery and then cover travel expenses for patients who go there for treatment.

Finally, employers should ensure that their EAP vendors have the expertise and resources to provide long-term support for addiction recovery.

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