According to a new survey, 71% of U.S. employers say they have been affected in some way by employee misuse of legally prescribed medications, including opioids.
“Most drug addictions today don’t begin on the street, they start in a doctor’s office with legal, valid prescriptions,” said Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Employers must understand that the most dangerously misused drug today may be sitting in employees’ medicine cabinets. Even when they are taken as prescribed, prescription drugs such as opioids can impair workers and create hazards on the job.”
Most employers have a drug-free workplace policy directed at illegal drugs, along with an alcohol abuse policy, but most don’t have a prescription drug policy in place.
The council’s survey findings, released on March 9, build on interviews with HR decision-makers across the U.S. at organizations with 50 or more employees.
Establishing a Policy
- Define the employee’s role in making the workplace safe. A drug-free workplace program should state what employees must do if they are prescribed medications that carry a warning label or may cause impairment. Commonly abused medications include hydrocodone (Lortab and Vicodin), benzodiazepines (Valium, Librium, Xanas), barbiturates (downers), methadone (increasingly prescribed as a painkiller), buprenorphine (often used to treat heroin addiction) and stimulants (Ritalin and Dexedrine).
- Add prescription drug testing to illicit drug testing. There are tests that detect legally prescribed and commonly abused medications, such as those listed above. Working with legal counsel, the employer should decide if additional testing is warranted for pre-employment screening, at random, post-incident, reasonable suspicion or follow-up situations.
- List the procedures or corrective actions the employer will follow when an employee is suspected of misusing prescription drugs. This should include how the misuse will be identified, what the worker’s leave options are, what medical certifications are required for medical leave and the conditions that must be met before the employee can return to work.
- Obtain legal advice. At attorney experienced in DFWP issues should review the policy before it’s finalized.
- Train supervisory staff and educate employees. Educate managers and supervisors about prescription drug abuse and what to do if they suspect an employee has a problem.
- Review service coverage for behavioral health and/or employee assistance program (EAP) needs. Evaluate the behavioral health portions of health insurance policies and EAP contracts to ensure employees are covered for abuse of prescription drugs.