Combatting the Prescription Drug Crisis




Everyone at the office knew Ben had suffered a back injury in a car accident a few months earlier. However, his co-workers suspected something else was wrong with their colleague, who had worked there 12 years. He was quieter than he used to be, became distracted during conversations and had even been spotted dozing at his desk in the IT department. Something was off. So they sought the HR director’s advice.
When Sheila Felice met with Ben (not his real name), she casually asked if work was going OK. “You seem a little fatigued. Is there anything I can do to help?” the HR professional recalls asking. Only then did Ben confide that he had become addicted to the painkiller his doctor had prescribed for his back injury.
“When it comes to prescription medication, people are embarrassed,” Felice says. “They would never imagine they could become dependent on legal prescriptions. There’s a lot of shame in that.” She helped arrange a medical leave so that Ben could receive treatment. After eight weeks, he returned to his IT job and never had another problem with the drug. Some might have fired him on the spot after he admitted his addiction. But Felice saw him as an employee who needed help.
“Nine times out of 10, it’s a very valuable employee that you don’t want to lose,” says Felice, who now is HR and risk manager at Swarovski Optik NA Ltd. in Cranston, R.I. “If you can retain good talent by being proactive and keeping your eyes and ears open, everybody wins,” she says. “The employees benefit, and the company benefits.”
Employers across the country are facing a crisis of epidemic proportions. Indeed, drug overdoses—predominantly from opioid painkillers such as OxyContin and Percocet—now exceed car crashes as the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States. Perhaps that’s not surprising…

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