If there is one thing that has directly impacted the health and productivity of many workers over the last ten years that was to a large degree predictable, avoidable, and remediable, it would have been opioid use.
So naturally, the workplace wellness industry (along with most wellness-obsessed insurance carriers and the equally wellness-obsessed CDC, the subject of a future posting) missed it altogether. Health risk assessments (HRAs) asked lots of questions and gave lots of advice about drinking and illegal drug use. But opioids were generally obtained legally, with prescriptions, and reimbursed through PBMs…and rarely if ever found their way into HRAs.
The wellness industry ignored opioids in every way possible. They thought it was much more profitable and less controversial to tell employees to eat less saturated fat and, of course, salt. And of course get annual physicals and prostate checks.
We talk about the those direct harms of “pry, poke and prod” workplace wellness all the time. However, the indirect harm was equivalent: we were taking our eye completely off the opioid ball.
*In defense of the wellness industry, since most employees lie when they answer those HRA questions and/or ignore the advice, it is possible wellness vendors would have had as trivial an impact on opioid use as on everything else they address. However, they could have at least tried.