How to manage rising opioid use in the workforce

How to manage rising workplace opioid use

In 2012, there were 259 million reported prescriptions for opioid pain medication, enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills. In 2017, that number increased by more than 7%. 

America is facing an opioid crisis. 

Semi-synthetic opioids are painkillers created in a lab from natural opiates. They include the commonly prescribed painkillers oxycodone, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, as well as the illegal Schedule I drug, heroin, which is made from morphine.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) added semi-synthetic opioids to its standard screening panel. In the first few months of that year, it saw more than a 400% increase in reports of opioid positives.


Semi-synthetic opiates in the workplace 

According to Noble Diagnostics’ Medical Review Officers (MROs), our clients are reporting an increased risk of employee impairment in the workplace due to semi-synthetic opioid use, as well as a corresponding rise in the rate of accidents. 

Some reports indicate that these numbers will continue to increase as people return to work in a post-COVID world. No matter what the laws are in your state, federalOccupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines require employers to provide a safe workplace free from hazards that could cause death or serious physical harm to employees. 

Drug testing is more important than ever

Employer tolerance of an employee known to use alcohol on the job or a federally illegal drug, even for medical purposes, may create an impermissibly harmful environment under current federal law. Companies have the right and responsibility to protect employees and customers from the negative effects of workplace drug and alcohol use. It’s to your benefit to know if your potential employees may be under the influence while they’re on the job. 

Make sure semi-synthetic opioids are included in your screening panels. Best practices for testing existing employees vary depending on state laws regulating workplace drug testing. A general rule of thumb is to ensure your screening uses a DOT look-alike panel or a standard 10-panel test, both of which will include semi-synthetic opioids.

Conduct random drug screens. Most semi-synthetic opioids are out of a user’s system within 24 to 72 hours. Random testing ensures that you’re screening users when drugs are still in their system and have the potential to cause an accident.

Establish a post-accident testing policy. Post-accident drug testing can determine if drugs or alcohol contributed to a workplace incident. Employers often choose to test employees if the accident involves fatalities, injuries requiring medical assistance, police citations or significant property damage. Many also require the employee to stop working until after they have received their drug test results.

Perform reasonable suspicion training. Supervisors, managers and HR personnel should be trained with reasonable suspicion “signs and symptoms training”, via e-learning or in-person, to learn the signs and symptoms of drug abuse and alcohol misuse in the workplace.

Implement a drug and alcohol policy. Employers must establish a clear drug and alcohol policy that clearly communicates the details of your company’s drug-testing practices to promote a healthy and safe workplace. This not only informs employees of your policies and procedures but also outlines repercussions if an employee tests positive. 

In some states, a written policy is the first step to lawfully requesting that employees undergo drug screens. Failing to develop and implement a comprehensive drug and alcohol testing program can leave your company vulnerable to lost work time, loss of productivity, an increase in employee theft, insurance premium increases due to an increase in accidents and worker’s compensation issues.

Partnering with an expert like Noble Diagnostics can help you efficiently conduct drug tests of potential and existing employees. It can help you stay current with ever-evolving legislation, regulations and workplace best practices so you can develop an efficient drug and alcohol testing program. 

Contact Noble Diagnostics to discuss your needs today.


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