Opioid Crisis and the Workforce: A Firsthand Perspective

By on September 14, 2018

From International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans:  The opioid crisis has far-reaching impacts in both the United States and Canada, including the workforce.

John S. Gaal, Ed.D., director of training for St. Louis-Kansas City Carpenters Regional Council, saw firsthand the impact opioid abuse has had on the construction industry and has spent the last two years researching the crisis. In a special feature in the July issue of Benefits Magazine, “Perspectives on the Opioid Crisis and the Workforce,” Gaal offered his own take on the crisis and interviewed four experts from the U.S. and Canada. They offer their views on how the crisis started and strategies to treat and prevent the spread of opioid use disorder (OUD).

Mental Health, Chronic Pain and the Opioid Crisis

One in three people with depression struggles with substance abuse, explained Joseph Ricciuti, co-founder of Mental Health International and president and CEO of SEB Benefits and HR Consulting Inc. in Toronto, Ontario. Mental illness and chronic pain can exist as dual conditions, and disorders such as depression and anxiety can present both before and after the onset of pain.

“When mental health issues and chronic pain include a pharmacology treatment plan, there is a risk of drug dependency and/or an adverse drug reaction, which creates a volatile environment for abuse and illegal use.”

Strategies for Addressing OUD

OUD is a brain disease, which means that someone does not choose to become addicted, said Jenny Armbruster, director of community services for the National Council for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (NCADA). “Substance use disorder has no boundaries and can happen to anyone. Stopping is not just about willpower,” she said.

Armbruster recommended that prevention efforts begin early, with consistent education to young people, parents and others. Physicians also should talk with patients about the dangers of misuse and should prescribe low amounts of opioid medication. In addition, the current best practice for treatment of OUD includes the use of medication-assisted treatment along with traditional methods such as counseling and social supports.

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