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Study of worker absenteeism points to need for employer support of drug treatment programs, researchers say

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Boston — Employees who use illicit substances have increased absenteeism – a “compelling argument” for employers to promote employee treatment programs, results of a recent Boston University study show.

For the study, researchers looked at a sample of full-time employees who participated in the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Of them, 21% reported using one or more illicit substances within the past year, and 3% met the criteria for a substance use disorder. 

Findings show that the employees who reported using opioids racked up seven more missed workdays a year than those who said they didn’t use illicit substances. Using more than one type of substance was associated with five additional absent workdays compared with nonusers.

The employees who met the criteria for polysubstance use disorder missed 23 more workdays than nonsubstance users, and opioid use disorder was linked to 15 additional workdays missed.

In addition, employers face around $1,200-$3,700 in additional annual costs per employee with substance use disorders and $600-$1,200 for each employee who uses illicit substances.

“Were employers to place their substantial economic power behind the drive to increase coverage for and access to substance use treatment,” the researchers write, “they could become a major force for change and a powerful ally in the fight against the SUD epidemic in America.”

The study was published online in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

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