Here’s good news in the battle against opioid addiction: Employers in Minnesota have a growing “toolkit” of resources to help address opioid misuse in the workplace.
The Minnesota Safety Council, the Minnesota Department of Health, HealthPartners and the National Safety Council are working together on the issue. The resources include online education, creating more awareness for dealing with overdoses and drug disposal, and a first-of-its-kind label for insurance cards that prompts employees to ask about opioid prescription risks.
“Opioid misuse doesn’t just stay home or live on the streets,” said Minnesota Safety Council President Paul Aasen in a recent news release. “Each day it knocks on the doors of Minnesota workplaces whose employees face their own substance misuse challenges or are dealing with those of family members. No matter what your role — employee, employer, health care provider, government agency — we all need to be aware of risks and our opportunities to address this issue.”
The stakes are high.
In 2017, Minnesota recorded 422 opioid overdose deaths, with nearly 2,000 emergency room visits for opioid-related overdoses recorded in 2018. A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that in 2016, deaths from opioid overdoses topped deaths from car crashes.
National Safety Council President and CEO Lorraine Martin outlined the organization’s “Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit,” which includes policies, implementation guides, fact sheets, videos, five-minute safety talks and other resources to help employers create a recovery-friendly workplace and implement an opioid safety policy.
Martin also announced a partnership to distribute the council’s first-of-their-kind “Opioids: Warn Me” labels, which are applied to insurance cards or pharmacy loyalty cards as a signal that the patient wants more information before opioids are prescribed. The free “Warn Me” labels were made available to Minnesota employees in conjunction with the state’s insurance Open Enrollment period.
“We know employers can make a huge impact when it comes to health and safety, especially where opioids are concerned,” Martin said. “A recovery friendly and drug-free workplace is possible; we can all take actions that reduce stigma and support treatment for employees who need it.”
As pervasive and dangerous as the opioid problem is, there is hope.
Readers may remember our story from May, 2018 that Douglas County was the state's No. 2 dispenser of addictive prescription painkillers in 2016, but swift action taken by Douglas County Hospital dramatically reduced those prescriptions.
As noted in our story, Ann Ehlert, substance abuse care coordinator for PrimeWest Health, told Gov. Tim Walz that opioid prescriptions coming from the hospital system decreased significantly. Hydrocodone, which had been the third most prescribed drug, fell to 10th over the past year, and only one opioid, Tramadol, remained in the top five, she said.
To avoid withdrawal, doctors are slowly weaning patients off the painkillers, taking into consideration how long they have been on the drugs and the dosage they have been on, according to Dr. Deb Dittberner, chief medical officer for the hospital, Alexandria Clinics and Heartland Orthopedic Specialists. Some patients are able to do it themselves while others need support from a behavioral counselor, psychologist or treatment center.
The latest news about the resources that are available to employers is welcoming. It builds off local efforts to take action and raises awareness about an addiction epidemic that’s claimed too many lives.