Starting a Conversation About Opioid Misuse and Addiction

Know the Signs of Opioid Misuse and Addiction

If one of your employees gets hurt on the job, their doctor may prescribe opioids to help with their pain. These powerful drugs have strong effects on a person’s body, including a feeling of euphoria. This “high” is what can lead to opioid misuse or addiction. It’s a problem fueling the opioid epidemic in the United States today. In 2017 alone, over 11 million people misused opioids by taking them incorrectly, more often than they should or without a prescription.1
Knowing the signs of opioid misuse and addiction can help you spot a potential issue in one of your employees.
It’s important to remember that seeing signs doesn’t guarantee your employee is misusing opioids. But if you notice a change in their performance, it can give you a reason to reach out to them privately.

Prepare for Your Conversation With Your Employee

As a supervisor, if you suspect someone may have a substance use problem, first, plan a private conversation. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recommends you keep it focused on their work performance and don’t be accusatory.2
Because you’re framing the conversation around your employee’s performance, you should have data to back up your claims. This can include:
  • Attendance
  • Performance reviews
  • Records of missed deadlines
Talk to them from a standpoint of caring and compassion with an emphasis on health and safety. Avoid blame and judgment. Shatterproof offers these conversation starters:
“It appears that you’re very distracted lately, and your performance is suffering. You missed last week’s deadline.” 
“Is there something going on that we can help you with?” 
“I care about you as a person. I can see that you’re struggling. What can I do for you?”

Be Direct, But Not Accusatory in Your Conversation About Opioid Misuse

During your conversation, you should explain to your employee why you’re concerned about their performance. Give them the opportunity to explain their behavior, Shatterproof suggests. There may be legitimate reasons for the symptoms, such as health problems or maybe a stressful family situation.
Having a discussion focused on work, performance and safety gives employees an opportunity to share information.
Here are some tips from Shatterproof to keep in mind while having a conversation:
  • Be a good listener
  • Don’t make the conversation about you
  • Pay attention to their tone and body language
  • Keep the conversation positive
Remember to keep your main points focused on their performance at work. Emphasize that you’re trying to find out what’s causing the change and want to help resolve it.
If you think your employee isn’t being honest, don’t press it.3 Just let them know what your expectations are and that continued performance issues can lead to disciplinary actions.4

Provide Information About Employee Resources

If your employee opens up to you during your conversation, let them know there’s help available to them: “We are here to support you and your family. May I help you find resources the company provides?”
If your company offers an employee assistance program (EAP), talk about how they can use it. If your company doesn’t have an EAP but want to offer support to your team, you can: 
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