Prescription opioids are finding their way in your workplace through many of your employees.
Injured workers are typically prescribed opioid pain medications (such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percoset, Morphine, Codeine, etc.) after an accident. The use of these medications can pose extreme harm to not only the injured workers but the entire workplace, especially if that employee is operating any equipment or machinery.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 43,900 people died of drug overdoses in 2013.
16,235 of those cases were tied to opioids alone or in combination with other prescription medications or alcohol.
However, the opioid epidemic extends beyond injured workers who are prescribed medications for pain relief. A study in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that more than half of chronic abusers (those who took pills for at least 200 days during the last year) received pills from prescriptions written for them (27.3%) or friends and family (26%).
Opioid prescription medications—legally taken by an injured worker or illegally used by an employee—are both a health and a safety issue in your workplace. Opioids are highly addictive drugs that have the potential to increase the risk of workplace accidents, errors and injury. In 2011, more than 25% of workers’ compensation prescription drug claim costs were for opioid pain medications.
Here are some recommendations from the National Safety Council on injured workers using opioids:
NSC recommends that employers and workers’ compensation insurance providers be proactive (Click here to download “The Proactive Role Employers Can Take Against Opioids“) to reduce their legal risk in situations where employees are being treated with pain medications as follows:
- Educate all employees about the hazards associated with prescription pain medication use, especially injured employees. Key educational messages include:
- The risks of opioid pain medication use, especially for workers with sleep apnea, COPD or other respiratory problems;
- Hazards associated with using together multiple forms of opioid pain medication such as short-acting and long-acting drugs together;
- Dangers of using alcohol and sleep aids with opioid pain medications;
- The risks of addiction and drug overdose.
- Require workers’ compensation and network providers to use opioid prescribing guidelines issued by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. These guidelines include:
- Informed consent;
- Thorough patient history with a more detailed screening if treatment continues for more than two weeks;
Urine drug monitoring;
- Checking the state prescription monitoring database;
- Avoiding co-prescribing benzodiazepines with opioid pain medications; and,
- Discontinuing treatment with opioids when patients reach meaningful functional recovery.
- Use caution and require prior approval for the use of methadone to treat chronic noncancer pain.
- Screen injured workers for depression, mental health conditions and current or prior substance use.
- Require network providers to utilize state prescription drug monitoring programs.
NSC also recommends that employers review their workplace drug and alcohol testing policies and update them, if appropriate. If your workplace does not have policies in place or may need to update in order to stay on top of changing drug trends, contact Employee Screening Services for a free needs analysis.
Many employers believe their drug test panels cover a wide range of opioid drugs. A “standard” 5-panel tests for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, PCP and amphetamines. The opiates tested in the standard 5 panel generally include heroin, morphine and codeine but not synthetic opiates, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, etc. Contact ESS for information on how to test for extended opiates.
Stay ahead of the opioid epidemic by establishing a new or updating a current drug and alcohol policy in your workplace.
Click here to download “Prescription Pain Medications: A Fatal Cure for Injured Workers”