Last updated: February 24, 2020
The days of businesses worrying only about illegal drug abuse in their employee population are gone. Opiate use is growing at staggering rates in the workplace, and these drugs can be far more dangerous and pervasive than their illegal counterparts.
How are narcotics impacting society and the workplace?
According to the Centers for Disease Control National Center for Health Statistics, prescription painkiller use is at epidemic levels with the use of narcotic painkillers on the same order as morphine having increased 20% from 1999 to 2012. The government has put measures in place to allow the safe return of unused drugs and to limit narcotic prescription fills to 90 days. According to state rankings, Ohio has the 10th highest rate of painkiller deaths with 15.1 people per 100,000 people suffering fatal overdoses.
The rise in opiate use in society is making its way to the workplace. In response, many companies are now testing for prescription drug use, especially after a workplace accident. Quest Diagnostics, a player in the employee screening space, reported a 40 percent increase in positive testing for opiates from 2005 to 2009. Post-accident testing reveals a fourfold increase in painkiller use when compared to pre-employment testing.
Narcotic use is costing companies $1.4B annually in drug costs alone not to mention the incalculable cost of lost productivity, sick leave and turnover. Employees are being prescribed narcotics 63% more often than they were just seven years ago. These drugs are used to treat legitimate workplace injuries, but they are relied on too often by the medical community.
Why are narcotics so dangerous?
Opiates are highly addictive by their very nature. They create a feeling of euphoria in users by affecting dopamine in the brain. Patients grow accustomed to the good feelings and want to repeat the sensation over and over. Addicts resort to crushing and snorting their narcotic of choice to combat their tolerance.
The new narcotic Zohydro is particularly harmful as it is dispensed in higher doses than other narcotics. The drug is intended to release over time, but snorting results in the full dose being released immediately. Sudden respiratory failure and death can result.
Narcotics are the first choice of doctors to treat pain and are prescribed on a regular basis after surgeries. Many legitimate patients become addicted and are affected by the side effects. Short-term effects include slowed reflexes while long-term impacts can include vomiting, diarrhea, muscle spasms and heart damage.
How can employers, employees, and the medical community solve this?
There are actions that can be taken to combat this societal epidemic that has made its way to the workplace. Employers and co-workers can look for warning signs like increased absences, slowed productivity and behavioral changes. Employers can implement programs to reduce the risk of injuries on the job as many employee addictions begin with treatment for a legitimate workplace accident.
Users should watch for signs of addiction. Thinking about the medication often, “doctor shopping” to get the same prescription from more than one provider or sneaking pills from a sick relative are all red flags. Impacted users should seek immediate help from a medical professional or a drug treatment center.
Doctors have a responsibility to stop prescribing narcotics at such staggering rates. They must consider alternative drugs and watch for signs of misuse.
There is a place for opiates in society, but when they creep into the workplace and impact safety and the economy, the costs become too great. Employers and employees must help fight narcotic use in the workplace while doctors combat it in society.