Nearly 2.1 Million Americans are Addicted to Opioids
Opioid Abuse Costs Employers More Than $25 Billion Annually
Abuse of prescription opiates, otherwise known as opioids, which includes oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and codeine, is spreading across America. Nearly 2.1 million Americans are addicted to opioids according to statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services. Kevin Troutman, a partner in the Houston office of Fisher & Phillips, a national management-side labor and employment law firm, warns that the spread of opioid abuse could significantly impact employees who suffer from addiction and their employers.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control, the greatest impact of opioid abuse is seen in people ages 25 to 64, which comprises the majority of the workforce,” said Troutman. “Further adding to employers’ concerns is the impact that opioid abuse can have on employers’ bottom lines, which has been estimated by some to run more than $25 billion annually.”
The increased prevalence of opioid abuse in the past decade has prompted the Obama administration to request an additional $1.1 billion from Congress to combat prescription painkiller and heroin abuse.
“Opioid abuse is not only a government issue. It is also one that employers must face,” said Troutman. “Employees who are impaired by opioids can create problems ranging from ruining client relationships, to injuring others while driving or operating machinery. Employers should take action to minimize the risk of such incidents, and they should tackle the issue of lost productivity.”
According to Troutman, employers should provide employees with information on opioid abuse and programs to help them overcome addiction. Employers should also implement drug testing policies that address opioid use and abuse. Below is Troutman's Rx for combating opioid addiction in the workplace:
1. Expand Testing – Most employers use the standard five-panel test that detects commonly used illegal drugs. This test does not detect semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone that are legal with a prescription. As opioid abuse continues to rise, employers should consider implementing drug tests that detect the use of legally prescribed medicine such as benzodiazepines, oxycodone and methadone, and possibly hydromorphone or fentanyl, all commonly prescribed opioids. Employers should determine what may prompt the decision to drug test employees. Will the company institute random testing? Are managers trained to spot symptoms of drug abuse? Can a manager request that an employee be tested when they believe it is warranted? Employers should share these policies with employees and include the policies in their employee handbooks.
2. Review Results – Enlist the services of a licensed, independent medical review officer (MRO) to receive and review drug test results. A good MRO plays a vital role in establishing and maintaining the integrity of the testing process. They also serve as a resource when determining drug-testing practices.
3. Develop Policies – Develop appropriate drug policies. Policies should:
- State that all employees who are taking over-the-counter or prescription medicine are responsible for consulting their physician or pharmacist about whether the medication could interfere with the safe performance of their job.
- Explain that if an employee is using any medicine that could impair their senses or otherwise endanger the safety of anyone in the workplace, the employee mustnotify a supervisor or company physician, and either take time off or request a change in duties to avoid potentially unsafe situations.
- Ban the illegal or unauthorizeduse of prescription medicine and state that misuse of prescription medicine represents a serious violation of company policy and could result in termination.
- Protect the privacy and dignity of everyone being tested
4. Prepare Employees – Prepare the workforce for the roll out of any changes to the company’s drug testing procedures. Employers should inform employees of the changes; explain why they were made, such as to test for legally prescribed medications (use of statistics and data are recommended when justifying these changes to employees); stress that test results will be handled confidentially and reviewed by a limited number of people; and provide employees with educational materials on opioids and programs to combat opioid abuse. Supervisors should receive additional training on the new procedures and be prepared to answer employees’ questions.
Troutman recommends employers develop a plan to address opioid abuse now, before left with a lawsuit after an impaired employee injures himself or someone else.