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'
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.