Prescription Drugs in the Workplace
Many employees consider a medical prescription “safe”. However, even employees who use certain medical prescriptions following a doctor’s advice, can be impacted in an unsafe way, affecting their job performance and safety to the point where the employee becomes unfit for duty. The National Safety Council (NSC) recently noted that 23% of the U.S. workforce has used prescription drugs non-medically and that in many cases, even those employees who take a “regular” dose may be too impaired to work . According to the NSC:
• Injured workers prescribed even one opioid have average total insurance claim costs four times greater than similar claims from workers not on prescription opioids.
• Workers that receive more than a one-week supply of opioids following an injury have double the risk of disability after a year.
• Courts have found employers and workers’ compensation insurers financially responsible when an injured worker with prescription painkillers fatally overdoses.
Many employers wrongly assume that the standard 5-panel drug test will detect both prescribed and abused prescription drugs. However, many abused narcotics (e.g. fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxymorphone, etc.) are not tested for unless an employer adds the expanded opiates panel. Additionally, a standard medical review process cannot identify the misuse of prescription drugs if the employee has a valid prescription. This means a drug abuser need only have one valid prescription and, in theory, the Medical Review Officer could reverse a positive drug test and report the result as negative to an employer. Policies should focus on prescription drug use, regardless of whether the drug use is pursuant to doctor guidelines or not.
Over two million Americans are estimated to have a problem with opioids. In 2015 alone, 97 million people took prescription painkillers, of those, 12 million did so without being directed to do so by a doctor . Employees who abuse prescription drugs are more likely to miss work, use pain relievers on the job, return a positive drug test, have poor work performance, and negatively impact employee morale than their non-abusing counterparts . 71% of U.S. employers have been impacted by employee prescription drug use . By having an up-to-date and comprehensive workplace drug testing policy, employers can reduce their chances of employing a prescription drug-abusing employee.