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Addressing Opioids in the Workplace

Employer Policies Under the Microscope

  • Inside the walls of Corporate America, most health and safety officials will answer "yes" when asked if they screen job applicants or test employees for opioids. Chances are they are using a five-panel drug test still considered the national standard by the federal government and U.S. Department of Transportation.

    But they're missing the boat, says Dr. Don Teater, National Safety Council medical advisor.

    Safety-minded companies should expand drug testing panels to include commonly prescribed medications. This is particularly important in industries where alertness is required or heavy machinery is operated. Teater says the expanded test better gauges the presence of prescription drugs with potentially fatiguing side effects.

    An expanded testing typically will look for two drug compounds not found in a five-panel test:  benzodiazepines and opioid pain medications. Teater encourages employers to drive the conversation forward as they examine and update their own drug policies by asking questions such as these:

    • How and what can you test for?
    • Who should know the results of a drug test?
    • Will a donor test positive for drugs if they are around someone who is using drugs, or if they eat foods with poppy seeds?

    Opioids Prevalent in the Workplace

    This is what we know:

    • 23% of the U.S. workforce has used prescription drugs non-medically
    • Even employees who take a regular dose may be too impaired to work, especially in a safety-sensitive position

    Reasons for employers to take control of their workforce are many, ranging from safety and savings on insurance costs to preventing absenteeism and boosting productivity.

    Impact of Opioid Painkiller Use

    You'll want to protect your bottom line:

    'My Brother was Injured at Work, but he Overdosed at Home'

    In the NSC Prescription Drug Employer Kit, Rex tells the story of his brother's death. Bill was injured at work. He died at home of an accidental overdose of methadone in July 2006.

    Since then, Rex has worked to focus attention on the dangers associated with taking methadone and other opioids. He pushes for drug policy changes in the workplace because he believes employers can do more to inform and protect their employees.

    "My brother was injured at work, but he overdosed at home," Rex said. "So, obviously, this isn't a concern isolated to the workplace."

    Still, he believes employers can do more.

    "Organizations need to get information out to their employees and help employees understand the gravity of prescription drug use," Rex said. "It's a life or death situation."

    Positive Influence Starts at the Top

    Generally, the use of prescription painkillers threatens employees' safety and your bottom line.

    There are specific strategies safety-minded employers follow to reduce risk and keep employees safe. To understand the employers' role, read The proactive role employers can take: Opioids in the workplace.

Weed and Your Workforce: What You Need to Know

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use, making it accessible to more than 150 million Americans. Employers need to know the critical safety impact legal marijuana can have on public and workplace policy. Log in with your account or create one to watch the webinar. Download the presentation slides here.

Prescription Drug Abuse at Work: Prevention Strategies

Employers increasingly are impacted by the prescription drug epidemic, yet a recent NSC survey in Indiana found only 53% of employers have a policy in place. Two noted experts share key findings from the survey, discuss their experience creating and administering mandatory education programs, and present a case study exploring the successes and obstacles faced by one employer. Log in with your account or create one to watch the webinar. Download the presentation slides here.

Prescription Pain Meds: A Fatal Cure for Injured Workers

Many employees who use opioids to treat work-related injuries are not aware of potential risks. Our webinar reviews recent court decisions that can help you discover potential liability risks and will show you how you can protect injured workers on and off the job. Log in with your existing account or creat a new one to watch the webinar here. Download the presentation slides here.

The Rapidly Changing Face of Substance Abuse

​More than 20% of the workforce has misused prescription painkillers. Could your employees be among them? In this recorded webinar, we explain the need for workplace drug policies that include opioid painkiller testing. Watch the recording.

Managing Prescription Opioid Misuse

Prescription painkiller use is driving up your worker’s compensation costs. Find out how ​and w​hat you can do. Watch this recording of our webinar featuring Dr. Constantine J. Gean of California, download the slides.

The Hidden Workplace Epidemic

Prescription opioid use is impacting your workplace, but you may not realize it. Watch a recording of our webinar and read our Q&A.

Drugs at Work

Learn the real cost of substance use in your workforce with our Substance Use Cost Calculator for Employers.

Calculate Your Costs

NSC Speakers Bureau

The National Safety Council works with three physicians who are available to talk to your organization about prescription drug misuse.

Meet our Speakers
  • Weed & Your Workforce: What You Need to Know

    Our free webinar helps employers affected by marijuana legalization develop best-practice policies for their workplace.

    Watch the Webinar

Make Your Workplace Opioid Free

Employee use of prescription painkillers threatens employees' safety and your bottom line.

Download the Kit

Meet the Expert: Dr. Don Teater

Dr. Don Teater has worked intensively with opioid and mental health treatment and recovery for more than 10 years. In addition to serving as NSC medical advisor, he runs an addiction clinic in North Carolina.

  • Ask the NSC Expert

    ​NSC Medical Advisor Dr. Don Teater answers your workplace questions about prescription painkillers.

    Question: Can we test 'DOT' employees for more than substances than on the five-panel drug test, such as Norco?

    Answer: Your organization can test for more substances than required under DOT regulations, under your company authority. However, the DOT test must be conducted separately and include only those drugs on five-panel test. Testing for other drugs must be conducted separately from DOT and other federally-regulated testing.

    Have a question about opioids in the workplace? Email

National Safety Council Mission

The National Safety Council eliminates preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy.

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