How the Opioid Crisis is Impacting Employee Drug Screening

Drug abuse is on the rise across the United States and prescription opioids top the list for substance abuse. Between 1999 and 2014, prescription opioid sales almost quadrupled while the amount of pain reported remained constant.

Opioid misuse carries high societal costs. In 2013, the abuse of prescription opioids resulted in $78.5-billion in total costs due to the associated crime, work performance, and healthcare costs.

Opioids in the workplace:

2015 research indicated that of the 37.8% of adult Americans using prescription opioids, 13.4-million individuals either misused prescription opioids or had a use disorder. Of these opioid drug abusers, the majority (59.9%) obtained the drugs without a prescription, such as from friends or family.

Applied to the workforce, the impact of prescription opioid misuse is staggering, creating numerous challenges for employers. More than 70% of employers have been impacted by prescription drug use within the workplace, resulting in an estimated $10 billion in losses per year. These costs are attributed to the absenteeism and decreased worker productivity that often go hand-in-hand with prescription opioid abuse.

There is also growing evidence that opioids are a contributing factor to labor shortages. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced in the trucking as well as construction and manufacturing industries–all examples of professions that require workers to be alert on the job at all times.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that many opioid abusers began using the drugs with a legitimate medical reason. However, it is often the case that the individual found a way to obtain the painkillers and continue use for longer than medically prescribed. This presents an issue for employer drug testing, as only the use cases are different, not the drugs themselves. Thus, while testing can determine whether drugs are used, proof of an up-to-date medical prescription may also be necessary.

Policies for workplace opioid screening are changing.

Employers who are either committed to a drug-free workplace or under contractual or compliance obligations that include opioid testing requirements, should revisit their drug screening policies in light of this rising epidemic. For example, companies regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) are now required to screen for opioids. This requirement extends to industries across the board, including commercial drivers, pilots, flight attendants, and transit workers.

Companies that are not required by law to test for opioids may still choose to do so in efforts to reduce risks that can be associated with opioid abuse. However, opioid-specific drug testing involves certain legal practices, which often vary by state. These can include review by a medical professional, consultation with the employee’s physician to prove the prescription is current, and a company-wide statement that clearly defines which substances are prohibited in the workplace.

How is your company responding to the rising opioid crisis? Whether you’re looking into a revamped drug testing approach to meet regulatory requirements or are striving to reduce your company’s risks and liabilities, explore our employment drug testing services here.

About Michael Gaul

Michael is a results-oriented marketing executive with over two decades of experience in employment screening, physical security, and business process management. Michael has deep experience in human capital risk management and a passion for educating business leaders and HR professionals on strategies that tangibly protect their interests. Michael serves on the Board of the Secure Cash and Transport Association (SCTA) and is a member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), and the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS).
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