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Opioids are the opiates of the masses: how wellness vendors failed us yet again

Do you know whether heartburn pills are safe for long-term use?

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.

I encourage everyone to read the full article here.

*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.


  1. Nicole Ausmus says:

    I read the full article, Al. Thanks for shining a light on this. Addiction in general is often overlooked or swept under the rug when it comes to health management in employee populations and wellness programs. I’ve seen companies demonize overweight people and then have open bars at company functions.


    • whynobodybelievesthenumbers says:

      Spot on as always, Nicole! The guy who used to run the Health and Welfare committee for the Business Roundtable claimed to be all about employee health — but he ran a (now bankrupt) casino company and there was tons of indoor secondhand smoke, which didn’t bother him in the slightest.


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