It should come as no secret that the United States is in the middle of a huge opioid epidemic. Nearly 27,000 people are killed every year from opioid overdoses. There are few parts of the country that have not been impacted by this problem. It has been said that opiate addiction is one of the biggest public health issues facing the country right now.
As a consequence of the rise in opiate addictions, many employer are having problems with people who are taking them on the the job. Bloombergandnbsp;recently put out a piece about this issue and how American businesses need to deal with it.
By some estimates, there are as many as 4.3 million people who have admitted to using prescription pain killers for non-medical uses. Citing data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), James Ridley, an American lawyer, has called drug overdoses one of the leading causes of “injury death.” This is just in front of deaths from guns or in car crashes.
The abuse of opioid pain killers and opiate addiction is costing American businesses at least $12 billion every year. It has been estimated that between 10 and 12% of all workers throughout the United States show up to work under the influence of these kinds of drugs. This can be a serious problem for some industries where being under the influence can mean putting other people in danger. Workers in the construction, manufacturing or trucking industries put many other people at risk when they work while taking opioid pain killers.
The chief medical officer for HireRight, a provider of employment background checks, says that it can be hard to test workers for using these kinds of prescription drugs. On March 13, Dr. Todd Simo told Bloomberg, “Workplace programs are designed around deterrents, and not specifically detection.” To complicate matters, the drug testing that is normally conducted by employers looks for illicit drugs and they do not always look for legal, prescription drugs such as hydrocodone or oxycodone.
Reidy said, “The problem with opioids, especially when compared to marijuana or alcoholandmdash;is that users are well hidden in the workplace. But even if the drug use isn’t obvious, the impact on the workplace persists.”
There are some signs of opiate addiction that human resources people should look for. They include:
- Taking more time off than usual. This can mean people are late more often or ask to leave early more than they used to. This can be a clear sign of an oxycodone addiction or an oxycontin addiction.
- Being less productive than usual. People who are under the influence of an opiate pain killer may not perform at the same level.
- There are more accidents at work.
Reidy said, “It’s a major health and safety issue.” The problem is that while opiate addiction is a major problem around the country, not many employers test for opioids. Use of these drugs can also lead to higher turnover rates, which is another big problem for businesses around the country.
Experts are recommending that companies put in place policies that deal specifically with the use of opioids in the same way that they may have regarding using alcohol or illicit drugs at work. Some companies are going as far as to having NARCAN, which can be used to counter the effects of opiates.
There are things businesses can do if they think a worker is abusing opioid pain medication. They can require the worker be screened for the drugs but also provide access and coverage for a drug treatment program in the same way they might provide an alcohol addiction treatment program for workers who suffer from that kind of addiction.
Opiate addiction can be particularly hard to recognize and deal with because it usually starts with a prescription from a doctor. When someone suffers an injury that sends them to the emergency room or doctor. The person does not start taking the drugs to get high, they start because they are in pain. The problem is the body can get used to the drug and the person starts to depend on it. That si where the addiction begins. Employers who are concerned should look to addiction specialists to help their workers.