Safety and OSHA News

Employment lawyer: Expand traditional drug testing for safety

Is it time for your company to go beyond standard employee drug testing? A lawyer says the growing problem of prescription painkiller abuse in the U.S. makes expanded drug testing something companies should consider. 

In a post on the law firm’s website, A. Kevin Troutman, a partner with Fisher & Phillips, says standard five-panel drug tests don’t detect semi-synthetic, opioid-like drugs such as oxycodone.

And there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about workers abusing these drugs. Workers who abuse prescription painkillers:

  • are a safety risk to themselves and others
  • are more likely to file workers’ comp and disability claims
  • have higher healthcare expenses
  • are absent more often, and
  • have lower productivity.

More Americans are taking the drugs:

  • In 2010, enough prescription painkillers were provided to medicate every American around the clock for an entire month
  • The U.S. contains 4.6% of the world’s population but consumes 80% of the world’s opioids and 99% of the world’s hydrocodone, and
  • Deaths from prescription painkillers have risen more than 300% since 1999.

Troutman’s article notes the standard five-panel test covers opiates/heroin, cocaine, marijuana, PCP and amphetamines. He suggests employers consider including tests for benzodiazepines, oxycodone and methadone. Two others to consider are dilaudid and fentanyl.

Also, Troutman offers these guidelines for employers expanding employee drug testing:

  • Employers should develop a policy that states all employees who are taking over-the-counter or prescription medicines are responsible for consulting with their doctor about whether use could interfere with safe job performance
  • If medicine use could endanger safety, employees must notify their supervisor and either take time off or request a change in duties to avoid unsafe situations
  • The policy should state that misuse or abuse of prescription medicine (including taking meds prescribed for someone else) represents a serious violation that could result in termination
  • The policy should define reasonable cause for drug testing and state whether there will be random testing
  • Educate employees about the dangers of prescription painkillers and why testing for these drugs is important to everyone’s safety
  • Explain that drug testing results will be confidential
  • Distribute the policy to employees and have them sign a document stating they received it, and
  • Supervisors should receive training on the issue.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a new webpage about prescription drug overdoses.

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