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The importance of educating everyone in the workplace about opioid risks

Managers need to be trained to recognize and respond to substance abuse issues in uniform, cost-effective and business-sensitive ways.

No community is immune to the opioid epidemic. That is why independent businesses in St. Paul are working together and ramping up efforts to combat the dangers associated with misusing and abusing prescription pain medicines.

Heather Kaiser
Caitlin Nightingale Photography
Heather Kaiser

Recently, the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a training session, sponsored by Allied Against Opioid Abuse (AAOA), to help human resources and business professionals implement initiatives to help prevent future opioid misuse in the workplace.

Abuse of prescription opioids can have grave repercussions for businesses and lead to greater workplace absenteeism, lower productivity and an increase in on-the-job accidents and insurance costs. Some employees who develop an opioid use disorder (OUD) leave the workforce altogether, which means local companies sometimes struggle to attract and retain talented employees they need to help their business succeed.

Prevention strategies

Attendees at our training session had a good understanding of this public health crisis, but were looking for effective strategies to help prevent future instances of prescription opioid abuse and misuse. A panel of experts discussed a range of proactive options, which included strengthening drug-free workplace policies, enhancing employee education and assistance programs, and fostering an open communications channel to reduce stigmatization and encourage employees who may be suffering from OUD to reach out. We also discussed how policies and procedures can support prevention efforts.

A core takeaway from our discussion was the essential role of enterprise-wide education, starting from the top. Managers need to be trained to recognize and respond to substance abuse issues in uniform, cost-effective and business-sensitive ways. When managers observe an employee who is not showing up for work, has trouble making deadlines and appointments, or is exhibiting inattention, poor judgment, exhaustion, or has difficulty concentrating and remembering – it is important to know that these could be warning signs that an OUD may be an issue and they need to know how to properly and legally intervene.

Small investments can make a difference

Addressing prescription opioid use and misuse in the workplace is not easy, but attendees left the session with information that can help them expand their workplace wellness programs to include information about opioid safety and awareness. Small investments, such as training employees on how to talk to their doctor about pain management, educating them on the rights, risks and responsibilities associated with prescription opioids, and ensuring company policies and health plan details are publicized, can help reduce the prevalence of prescription opioid abuse and misuse.  

AAOA and the Chamber’s training was a step in the right direction as we continue to make opioid safety a priority and share solutions with area business leaders. For those who could not attend the session, AAOA has developed online resources and materials to help businesses, community members and patients understand the rights, risks and responsibilities associated with prescription opioid use, which includes safely storing and disposing of these medications. Learn more at

Heather Kaiser, a human resources consultant at Associated Benefits and Risk Consulting, was a panelist at the St. Paul training session.


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