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For Your Benefit

Employees Asked to Mail It in to Fight Opioid Crisis

Providing employees with safe and secure medication disposal is a preventative measure to fight the opioid crisis and a logical counterpart to pharmacy benefits programs.

With the opioid epidemic costing employers upward of $18 billion a year in medical expenses and lost productivity, one company is offering a remedy to get excess drugs out of employees’ hands.

Safe disposal of the drugs could help as a preventive benefit to combat the opioid epidemic, according to Meg Moynihan, marketing program strategist at waste management company Stericycle Environmental Solutions.

“I think there’s increasing awareness on the corporate sector of the value of providing employees with safe and secure medication disposal,” she said. “It’s a logical counterpart to pharmacy benefits programs.”

In September 2014, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration released new regulations for the disposal of pharmaceutical controlled substances, thus allowing authorized organizations such as Stericycle to collect the substances from people through a prepaid mail-back program.

A mail-back program offers advantages for employers, said Moynihan. They do not incur any liability or have to register with the DEA, and there are few barriers to entry.

It’s still relatively unusual in the employer setting because the DEA regulations are so recent, she added. Currently, Stericycle’s customer base for the envelopes primarily consists of retail pharmacies and several other types of retail customers like big-box stores and discount stores.

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Anyone in the workplace, including HR managers, can purchase prepaid envelopes and distribute them to employees, who receive no financial or other incentives to participate. The plastic envelope can hold up to 8 ounces of medication including liquids. Employees put their extra medication in the unmarked, prepaid envelope and send it, and once the envelope is received, the drugs are destroyed along with its contents.

Even though people are encouraged to black out their names or other personal information on a label for privacy reasons, the envelopes are not opened unless there are extenuating circumstances, said Moynihan.

“There’s anonymity in the content and where they came from,” she said.

Although the program won’t stop addicted people from consuming the extra medication, it can help create a culture where people regularly clean out their medicine cabinet with a secure option to dispose of the drugs, she added.

Adopting such a culture can help considering how often people misuse drugs they obtained from friends or family members. The 2013 and 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 50.5 percent of people who misuse prescription medication got them from a friend or relative for free, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Additionally, 22.1 percent got them from a doctor.

There are also environmental benefits, Moynihan added. Certain opioid and non-opioid medication can pose environmental dangers if people dispose of them on their own by throwing them in the trash or flushing them down the drain.

“We look at drug takeback as a preventative measure in combatting the opioid epidemic, and certainly there are plenty of other critical tactics for addressing the crisis at all stages downstream,” said Moynihan, who noted the program is a success, though she couldn’t quantify it with numbers.

Employers play a vital role in the fight against opioid overdoses, said Maureen Vogel, spokeswoman for the National Safety Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes health and safety. There are many other preventive measures companies can take, she added. The council, for its part, created the Prescription Drug Employer Kit to give companies the tools and resources to address the opioid epidemic.

“Many employers are implementing comprehensive policies around opioid misuse, including employee education and supervisor training around how to spot the signs of potential misuse and where to go to get help,” she said.

Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com