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How Employers Can Reduce the Opioid User Disorder Stigma

Apr 27, 2021

Key Takeaways

  • Opioid use disorder as well as overdoses are at a crisis level in the U.S.
  • Reducing the stigma of opioid addiction is the first step to reverse this epidemic.
  • Employers can provide return to work support for employees with opioid user disorder and help them stay productive.


In a previous publication, Shifting Mortality Data Impacting Well Being in the Workplace, Prudential discovered that overdose claims were relatively flat in their overall book of business but noticed an increase in dependent overdose claims over a 10-year period with a spike in 2012. In 2017, 19.7 million people over age 12 suffer from substance use disorder and approximately 6-7% of the population suffers from addiction at any given time, according to a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). But Prudential’s disability book of business reflects only a very small percentage of those affected. To positively impact substance use disorder, we must be able to accurately identify and manage it. The disability data currently available points us to one significant problem: stigma.1



Chart displaying national drug overdose deaths involving any opioid from 1999 to 2017.

While stigma continues to be a problem in the mental health community in general, attitudes are significantly more negative toward substance use disorder including opioid dependence. One result of this stigma is a failure to seek treatment.2 This is evident in the disability industry as we see a low volume of substance use disorder as a primary diagnosis. Employees who wait a long time to seek care may be in danger of losing their job, and as a result, will no longer qualify for disability benefits. If they do continue to be employed, return to work can pose a challenge due to significant damage to reputation.

Employers are in a unique position to help by using workplace assistance resources to provide support. Ways employers can help include: working to reduce stigma, sharing stories of recovery, using messaging to help their workforce understand the systemic barriers to treatment, ensuring access to proper care for both pain and substance use disorder, and providing return to work support. Opioid use disorder and overdose is a serious crisis in the U.S. But proper comprehensive care and community support can help reverse this trend and return more people to health and productivity.


Read More

To learn more, read Focusing on Our Opioid Epidemic - How Employers Can Reduce the Stigma   PDF opens in a new window.


1The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (2018) Medication Assisted Therapy.

2McGinty, E.E., Pescosolido, B., Kennedy-Hendricks, A., Barry, CL. (2017) Communication Strategies to counter stigma and improve mental illness and substance use disorder policy. Psychiatric Services, 2018 Feb 1; 69(2): 136-146.


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