Employers Facing Challenges in Dealing With Prescription Drug Abuse

Employers face a number of challenges in dealing with workers’ prescription drug abuse. Studies show people with addictions are much more likely to be sick, absent or use workers’ compensation benefits, according to NPR.

Opioids are often prescribed in workers’ compensation cases when painkillers are called for, the article notes.

“The more professional stature you have, the less likely you are going to be forced into recovery, and the longer your addiction is likely to go on unchecked,” said Patrick Krill, who directs a treatment program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation focusing on lawyers and judges. Krill notes the legal profession has twice the addiction rate of the general population.

A survey released last month found 80 percent of Indiana employers are impacted by prescription drug misuse and abuse. The National Safety Council (NSC) and Indiana’s Attorney General conducted the survey, which found 64 percent of employers believe prescription drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet are bigger problems than illegal drugs.

Only about half of employers have a written policy on using prescription drugs, the survey found. Three-quarters of employers say misusing prescription drugs is a justifiable reason for termination.

The testing firm Quest Diagnostics found just 13 percent of the estimated 6.5 million workplace drug tests screen for prescription painkillers, the article notes. Federal government workers in public safety positions who are required to undergo periodic drug testing are not tested for prescription opioids.

“Within federal agencies we don’t test so we can’t see exactly what the positivity rate would be in prescription drugs,” said Ron Flegel, Director of Workplace Programs for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “But we know from the private employers the percentage is quite high as far as people that are testing positive.” He said that new rules to be released in the coming months will include prescription painkillers in federal drug testing.