Pennsylvania Opioid Prevention Project
PAOPP Employers



In light of the opioid overdose epidemic, many employers are faced with the monumental task of assisting co-workers, employees, and friends in navigating what can be an overwhelming amount of information about healthcare, resourses, and services for opioid misuse. In addition to the emotional turmoil of watching an employee or co-worker battle opioid misuse, opioid misuse can lead to increased absenteeism, higher health care costs, high turnover, and lack of job readiness. Given the scale of the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania, this issue is likely affecting your workplace in some way.


69% of Illicit Drug Users are Employed



As an employer there are five proactive steps you can take to keep your employees healthy and safe while ensuring the company’s productivity.


1. Get Educated

Take time to familiarize yourself with what opioid misuse looks like, both at the individual and community level:


Signs of opioid intoxication can include but are not limited to:

  • Behavioral or psychological changes such as agitation, poor judgment or apathy
  • Drowsiness or coma
  • Impaired attention or memory
  • Slurred speech
  • Constricted pupils


Take time to understand how the opioid epidemic is affecting your community. Research community-specific stressors and patterns of opioid misuse in order to better understand what your employees may be experiencing. Many states (including Pennsylvania) have dashboards which allow community members to access available geographic and demographic data concerning opioid misuse. Dashboards of this type can provide valuable information around how the opioid epidemic may be affecting your employees.


2. Provide Resources For Your Employees

Proactively providing resources can help streamline assistance for employees in times of crisis. One possible resource are Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). EAPs are private companies that contract with employers to provide a variety of supportive services including counseling and therapy, legal advice and referral to treatment. They can also provide trainings around proper identification of drug and alcohol misuse.


We have interviewed several EAPs that serve Pennsylvanian companies, large and small, to learn how they are supporting these employers and their employees. While EAPs aim to assist employees who call in with issues that are affecting them or a member of their family, we have learned that these services are underused. Nationally, only about 3-7% of employees utilize available EAP services.


If your workplace is contracted with an EAP, make sure this information is reaching employees. Our data revealed that most employees are unaware of EAP services they may be entitled to. While EAPs are not designed for long term therapeutic relationships, they can, however, make referrals to other local, long-lasting services.


3. Create Drug-Free Workplace Policies

The involvement of legal counsel and human resources is critical to ensure the policy includes protections for risk management, injury prevention, and liability. Below are some resources to help you develop policies.


  1. Download the SAMHSA Drug Free Workplace Toolkit.
  2. Drug Free Workplace PA offers comprehensive information and a plethora of resources for employers, employees and family members in the fight against opioid abuse.
  3. The PA Stop Workplace Toolkit includes information about Employee Assistance Programs, drug testing that includes prescription painkillers, and special advice for small businesses. Brochures, break room posters, pay stub inserts, and other resources to reach your employees are also free to download.


4. Be Supportive of Treatment

Opioid use changes the brain, which is one of the reasons that addiction is hard to overcome. But many people do recover from addiction and employer support often helps. Retaining an employee following successful treatment is good for morale and the company’s bottom line. In the unfortunate circumstance where an employee ­finds that he or she is addicted to opioid painkillers, help needs to be clear and accessible.


This treatment locator is a great first stop in identifying options.


5. Have Naloxone Accessible

Naloxone (brand name Narcan) is a medication that is used to reverse opioid overdoses. If you suspect opioid use in some of your employees, it may make sense to keep a dose of naloxone close by. In Pennsylvania there is a “standing order” which means any adult can purchase naloxone from a pharmacy in Pennsylvania without a prescription. Please note – the cost of the naloxone prescription may vary based on insurance coverage. Locate a pharmacy near you that carries naloxone.


Watching someone in your life struggle with opioid misuse can be a frustrating, heartbreaking experience whether this person is a family member, friend, or co-worker. While you may feel powerless and unable to convince this person to stop using, it is important to remember that a person who has developed an addiction to opioids may be unable to stop using without professional treatment. Try your best to practice patience, compassion, and flexibility while assisting someone seeking treatment. Meet your employees where they are, regardless of their place in the recovery process. Remember to provide professional resources to all employees - you never know who is affected by the opioid epidemic.