Looking back, you might long for the days of your youth, free from the burdens of work, bills and the responsibilities of adulthood. It is easy to dismiss the pressures of adolescence and the stresses that come with growing up. Young people face a lot of change in a short amount of time, putting strain on their mental health. Exposure to and use of alcohol and controlled substances, including prescription and illicit drugs, often begin in adolescence and ramp up during early adulthood. Young adults (age 18 to 25) have the highest rate of substance misuse and dependence among all age groups1.
While substance use disorders (the medical term for alcohol and drug addictions) affect all generations, adolescents and young adults are particularly vulnerable. Mental health and substance use disorders are the leading cause of disease burden in the US – more than cancer and circulatory diseases2.
The US has the highest disease burden from substance use disorders among twelve comparable, developed countries2. One in three Americans is engaged in a personal battle with addiction or is affected by a loved one who is fighting addiction3.
For employees and their family members, it is often a silent struggle, unseen and unaddressed, due to stigma and helplessness, lack of effective support services and limited availability of high-quality treatment programs. For employers, addiction’s impact is insidious and intensifying, with rising healthcare costs for emergency care, hospitalizations and residential treatment facilities.
Adolescents and opioids
The opioid epidemic, fueled by more than a decade of narcotic overprescribing and now resulting in more accidental deaths than car crashes, has been especially devastating to young adults and their families. For employers, opioid addiction, particularly among dependents on the employer’s health plan, has emerged as a growing cost driver.
Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported that employers are now spending more than ever on opioid addiction and overdose treatment, almost ten times more than a decade ago, and over half of this spend is for the children of employees4. The healthcare costs are just the tip of the iceberg. The emotional and physical toll taken on employees with children suffering from substance use disorder is beyond measure.
In contrast to other prevalent chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cancer for which widespread screening programs, treatment standards and Centers of Excellence have been established, substance use disorder has been left behind by the healthcare system. Less than a third of Americans who receive substance use disorder treatment receive evidence-based care, and the typical care experience is reactive, episodic and lacking the continuity necessary to manage a complex, chronic disease5.
For adolescents and young adults, the healthcare system offers limited options leaving desperate families turning to high-cost facilities, often out of state, for which established standards of care are lacking. Like other chronic illnesses, such as asthma and hypertension, disease relapse for substance use disorders occurs in approximately one in every two patients6. Without a system of quality, continuous care management, families are left to a demoralizing cycle of relapse-and-repeat. Beyond the cost implications, employers are being touched by the stories of desperation from their employees and within their communities. They are now looking for ways to fight back.
To support employers in this effort, Lockton, along with 17 major healthcare payers, has partnered with Shatterproof, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the devastation addiction causes families by equipping employers with evidence-based support and treatment resources. In addition to helping employers understand the financial and social impact of substance use disorder on their companies, Shatterproof outlines three achievable goals that employers can set:
- Identify costs of untreated substance use disorder among your workforce.
- Educate employees to reduce stigma and encourage treatment.
- Build corporate culture that eliminates stigma and supports recovery.
The efforts of Shatterproof, along with Lockton and other partner organizations, focus on deploying a system for employees and their dependents to access quality care that includes cost-effective treatment providers. In addition, their combined efforts aim to utilize data analytics to measure disease burden and care outcomes.
Employers can do their part to promote care standards and lift the stigma of mental health and addiction by offering support through benefits offerings. To learn more about what you can do to implement resources for employees and their dependents, contact your Lockton account team. More about what Shatterproof is doing to reduce costs to employers and save lives is available on their website.
- 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (www.samhsa.gov)
- Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of data from Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. Posted July 31, 2017 (www.healthsystemtracker.org)
- Shatterproof (www.shatterproof.org)
- Kaiser Family Foundation. Posted April 5, 2018 (www.healthsystemtracker.org)
- Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health (www.addiction.surgeongeneral.gov)
- NIH. National Institute on Drug Abuse (www.drugabuse.gov)