By Scott Tackett

The ability to lead and manage a small business is getting tougher. Think of all the matters that must be dealt with daily: Quality control, customer service, employee productivity, safety, profitability, hiring and retention — and these are in addition to the general ups and downs of running a small business. Well, prepare yourself for another challenge: The opioid crisis. Just as it is affecting every community and state across our nation, it is now affecting the workplace, and we need to begin dealing with it immediately.

The problem

A recent report by the National Safety Council provides staggering statistics about prescription drug use and its effects on the workplace. According to their findings:

  • More than 70 percent of U.S. employers surveyed have been affected by employees’ prescription drug use.
  • Nearly 40 percent of employers have experienced workers being absent because of prescription drug use.
  • Nearly 40 percent state that employees have used prescription pain relievers at work.
  • Nearly 30 percent of employers report that some workers have experienced decreased job performance because of prescription drug use at work.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially has declared the abuse of prescribed medications in the U.S. an epidemic. According to the CDC, opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, more than any year on record, and 40 percent of all opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription opioid.

This alarming data cannot be ignored. It is critical for every business owner to recognize and be prepared to deal with these issues — issues that could affect their ability to sustain a successful business.

Obviously, the opioid crisis is about more than statistics. Those affected are family members, friends, and employees, making it more than a dollar-and-cents issue. We are all aware that the names and faces of those addicted are much different today than the “junkies” of years gone by. Opioid addiction can strike anyone in an organization. It knows no gender, race, age, or financial status. It affects us all.

Our future

So where do we go from here? Frankly, burying your head in the sand or assuming your employees and business are not being affected is the worst thing to do and a failure of leadership. You must act, and doing so will make a difference. A study published in 2009 in the medical journal Psychiatric Services found that employer involvement is effective in convincing employees to seek treatment.

Taking a proactive approach to reducing the chances of opioid abuse in the workplace is best done through education. Educate yourself, your managers and supervisors, and all employees. Here are some ways to get started:

  1. Recognize the signs of on-the-job opioid abuse. Some to be aware of include:
    • Confused or dazed behavior,
    • Slurred speech,
    • Apparent and excessive mood swings,
    • Poor coordination,
    • Forgetfulness,
    • Nausea,
    • Increase or decrease in sleep.
  1. Establish clear and concise written policies on drug and alcohol abuse. Areas you may want to address include new-hire drug testing and post-accident and/or random drug testing. However, it is important to keep in mind your specific company and what you feel is in the best interest of your organization and your employees.
  2. Develop comprehensive employee- and management-level training for everyone. This should be conducted at least annually.
  3. Consider the benefits of offering an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to all employees. In my experience and past success with an EAP, the following basic components should be included:
    • Counseling services offered to employees and their immediate family members,
    • Services to be confidential and provided in a safe and private environment,
    • The guarantee that no loss of job or loss of promotional opportunities will result from anyone seeking assistance,
    • As an employer, you may want to consider covering the costs of the initial screening.

Unfortunately, opioid addiction is not going away, and if it hasn’t affected your business already, chances are high that it will. Therefore, it is imperative that we, as business leaders and owners, recognize the issue and take a proactive approach to minimizing the potential negative aspects to our most importance assets — our employees. Only by accepting our responsibilities as members of our communities will we be able to have an impact on the opioid epidemic that is gaining control of our country.


Scott Tackett is a Business Development Advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. He is considered the leading expert in restoration and cleaning for Human Resource Development and Organizational Leadership with over 30 years of experience. Through Violand, Tackett works with companies to develop their people and profits. To reach him, visit Violand.com or call (800)360-3513.