As one of the nation’s leading safety advocates, the National Safety Council (NSC) spotlights issues in an effort to “eliminate preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy.” The organization has identified prescription drug misuse as one of its key safety issues because of the alarming rise in addiction rates, ER visits, overdoses, and fatalities. Dr. Don Teater, Medical Advisor for the National Safety Council, has emphatically stated, “Painkillers don’t kill pain. They kill people.”
This public safety issue also weighs heavily on the workplace, impacting more than 70 percent of U.S. employers. According to research published in The Clinical Journal of Pain, the nonmedical use of prescription opioids cost the United States approximately $42 billion dollars in lost productivity in 2006. Five drugs in particular, OxyContin®, oxycodone, hydrocodone, propoxyphene, and methadone, accounted for two-thirds of the total economic burden.
The NSC reported results from its recent survey, which examined employers’ perceptions and experiences with prescription drugs. Because of substance misuse, employers face challenges with absenteeism, decreased job performance, injuries, positive drug test results, co-workers using, borrowing, or selling prescription drugs at work, and a negative impact on employee morale. In addition, the NSC survey data shows:
▪ 81 percent of employers lack a drug-free workplace policy
▪ 76 percent of employers do not offer training to identify drug misuse
▪ 41 percent of employers do not drug test for synthetic opioids
Employers want to help employees, yet only 19 percent of employers answered that they were “extremely prepared” to deal with the misuse or abuse of prescription medications. Managers cited that they need additional clarification regarding policy, benefits, insurance, treatment options, and simply identifying warning signs of a potential problem. How can the remaining 81 percent of employers get informed and gain confidence when facing this challenge? Survey authors suggest that companies add specialized workplace training for supervisors, implement drug testing programs, and strengthen their policies with more precise language about drug use without a prescription, employee impairment, and return-to-work protocols.