Be Proactive by Using Cost-effective Strategies to Prevent Opioid and Other Substance Misuse at Work

Don’t have an action plan yet? Here are some strategies to develop and implement effective substance misuse policies, procedures, and prevention programs at your organization.


Contact Information

Phone: 1-877-SAMHSA-7


Email: dwp@samhsa.hhs.gov

  • Strategy 1: Raise Awareness

    Workplace Educational Programs Can Help Supervisors Recognize the Warning Signs of Substance Misuse.

    They can also help employees understand the risks involved with misusing prescription drugs and other drugs. And raising awareness can benefit employees’ families when they take these lessons home.

    What Are Some Topics to Cover?

    To raise awareness about opioid and other substance misuse, highlight the following prevention topics:

    • Opioids 101: Defines opioids, describes prescription opioid misuse, addresses the scope of the problem, and explains drug dependence and addiction. [Get Resources]
    • Opioid Risks: Explains the common and serious reactions that can happen when taking opioids and long-term problems to avoid. [Download Factsheet]
    • Naloxone and Opioid Overdose Prevention: Explains how the opioid reversal medication naloxone works and how it’s used to prevent opioid overdose. [Get Resources]
    • Opioid Treatment Myths and Facts: Describes medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid dependence and corrects the myth that MAT is “giving drugs to drug addicts.” [Download Factsheet]
    • Preventing Marijuana, Stimulant, Hallucinogen, Alcohol, and Other Drug Misuse: Presents the dangers of illicit and other drug misuse for employees and their families. [Get Resources]

    How to Get Information to Employees?

    • Existing Channels: Integrate brief substance misuse prevention messages into your worksite’s regular communications such as newsletters, internal websites, and team meetings.
    • Trainings: Provide in-person trainings, webinars, videos, print or digital handouts, or expert panels to address the topics listed above.

    Avoid the stigma around substance misuse by marketing trainings to all staff or by making trainings mandatory for all staff or optional for interested staff or allowing for confidential online participation.

    • Prevention Campaigns: Professionally developed opioid prevention materials are available for free. Posters, videos, social media images, radio clips, online ads, and other materials can be downloaded easily.   [Download Chart]    [Download Factsheet]


    Prevention Week


    Rx Awareness


    Crisis Next Door

    The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Prevention Week campaign invites communities to raise awareness about the importance of preventing substance misuse. Free materials include videos, web graphics, and print graphics, such as signs to show how you’re playing a part to reduce the opioid crisis. [Get Free Materials]

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “It only takes a little to lose a lot” Rx Awareness campaign increases awareness that prescription opioids can be addictive and dangerous. The campaign shares stories of real people whose lives were torn apart by prescription opioid misuse.

    Free materials include testimonials, radio ads, web banners, social media ads, newspaper ads, and billboards. [Get Free Materials]

    The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s “The Crisis Next Door” campaign serves as a space for Americans to digitally share their stories about opioid misuse. [Read Opioid Misuse Stories]

  • Strategy 2: Focus on Environment

    Employees Must Feel Empowered to Seek Help.

    Employees need to know they can get help at the first signs of a problem. Employers need to develop and reinforce a culture of openness around opioids and other substance misuse by supporting employees, even when they’re facing challenges.

    How Can You Foster an Accepting Workplace Environment?

    • Integrate substance misuse prevention into existing workplace health and wellness programs. These programs help people make healthy choices in their lives and be more productive at work. Activities include health assessments, health fairs, exercise programs or facilities, and trainings or brown-bag talks on such topics like stress management. [Learn more]
    • Encourage employees to seek help if they’re struggling with substance misuse and provide the resources to help. Make confidential self-screening tools available and provide contact information for your EAP (if available) or a list of local substance abuse counselors/treatment facilities.
    • Raise awareness of the skills and behaviors that might help employees manage their own physical pain. Empower them to discover effective treatments that work for them. [Download Factsheet]
    • Encourage employees to be supportive of coworkers who may be struggling with substance misuse or who are returning from substance abuse treatment.
  • Strategy 3: Establish Policies

    Develop a Workplace Substance Use Policy.

    Employers are responsible for protecting the safety of their employees. One important step is to develop a policy with clear expectations and consequences related to substance use.

    Develop or update a written policy that’s customized to your organization. For example, existing policies may not explicitly cover prescription drug misuse or cannabis use.

    All employees should be able to easily understand the policy. It’s also a good idea to ask for written confirmation that the employee has read the policy and understands it.

    What Does a Good Policy Include?

    Effective workplace policies and drug testing interventions should outline the following[1]:

    • Purpose and objectives of the program
    • Definition of substance misuse
    • Who is covered by the policy or program
    • When and where the policy applies
    • Which employees are covered
    • Prohibited behaviors
    • Under what circumstances will drug or alcohol testing be conducted
    • Employee rights to confidentiality
    • Educational opportunities for employees about substance misuse
    • Employee and supervisor training to recognize impaired behavior and other signs of substance misuse
    • Outline of how to deal with impaired workers
    • Provisions for assisting chronic substance abusers
    • The consequences of violating the policy, including disciplinary action

    A good policy also provides a record of the organization’s efforts and is a reference if the policy is challenged. And it might help protect the employer from certain kinds of claims by employees.

    Consider Your Policy Approach.

    Consider an accepting approach instead of a zero-tolerance approach[2]. For example, amend policies that require the automatic termination of an employee after their first positive drug test for nonmedically approved drug use.


    An alternative approach is to create a policy that provides mandatory counseling for employees who fail a drug test. This gives the employee a second chance and can save the cost of hiring and training a replacement.

  • Strategy 4: Reduce Risks

    Employers May Be Able to Prevent Some Conditions that Increase the Risk for Substance Misuse.

    Some people misuse prescription pain relievers after being injured on the job. Others may misuse to reduce work-related anxiety or stress, or to cope with irregular sleep patterns due to shift work or long hours.

    What Are Some Actions to Take to Improve the Work Environment and Lower Risks?

    • Address stress. Investigate what’s stressful about the work environment and whether it can be improved. For example, are there time pressures that could be reduced with better planning?
    • Reduce injury risk. Follow best worksite practices to lower potential injury risks. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has good workplace safety and prevention resources. [Get Resources]
    • Sponsor take-back events. Reduce the risk of employees sharing unused pain medicine with coworkers or family members. For example, participate in medicine take-back events to dispose of medications properly through community organizations, local pharmacies, or local law enforcement.
    • Purchase naloxone to have on-site. Naloxone is a medication that blocks the effects of opioids and counteracts overdoses. Train employees to administer naloxone to someone who is having an overdose. Store it in visible areas near other essential health and safety tools, such as defibrillators and fire extinguishers.
  • Strategy 5: Provide Key Resources

    Employees are Your Greatest Resource.

    It’s important to provide employees with the benefits they need to be healthy. They also need to know about these resources and how to access them.

    Ensure Health Benefits.

    Ensure that employee health plans include behavioral health services for substance misuse. A well-structured plan reinforces an employer’s drug-free workplace policy.

    Offer health benefits that provide coverage for substance misuse disorders, including aftercare and counseling as a default option for all staff. [Download Factsheet]

    Provide Easy Access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).

    Coupled with health benefits, EAPs play a vital role in encouraging employee wellness and reducing health risks[3].

    To be effective, EAPs must:

    • Be promoted by leadership, including management and unions
    • Be easy for employees to access and use
    • Be confidential and protect patient privacy
    • Be trusted and valued by employees

    Make sure employees can easily access the EAP for confidential substance misuse screening, counseling, and treatment and support services, and for behavioral health and work and family life problems.

    Promote EAPs and educate staff using posters, flyers, newsletters, e-mails, or web portals.

    Monitor Workers’ Compensation Claims.

    For occupational injury and illness, workers’ comp provides medical benefits, lost wages, retraining, and assistance in returning to work.

    Work with your workers’ comp insurer to provide education and resources related to employee rights, possible hazards, general health and safety requirements, and knowledge about substance misuse.

    Monitor workers’ comp claims because employees recovering from painful occupational injuries may be at risk of prescription opioid misuse.

    Tailor Health and Wellness Programs.

    Directly address substance misuse in new or existing health and wellness programs:

    • Host talks or a panel to share stories of recovery
    • Create support groups for employees or family members
    • Offer health assessments and other health promotion tools that include substance misuse and other health topics such as stress and sleep.

    Be creative! Health and wellness programs are most effective when they’re tailored to the needs and culture of an organization.

    Connect to Community Resources.

    Connect employees with groups and other community resources addressing substance misuse. Feature these resources on web portals and bulletin boards.

    Identify and build relationships with a variety of community-based substance use prevention resources:

    • Ergonomics companies (such as Upright Health)
    • Medication take-back programs (such as Walgreens)
    • Alternative pain management, such as massage therapy, acupuncture, and mindfulness meditation
    • Peer support groups (call the SAMHSA National Helpline for a referral: 1-800-662-4357)
    • Local treatment facilities and community-based organizations (call the SAMHSA National Helpline for a referral: 1-800-662-4357)
    • State workers’ compensation officials (view the US Department of Labor list)