Opioids and the workplace: How should employers handle abuse or other issues?

It is hard to escape the headlines about America’s opioid crisis: A new viral video seems to circulate on a daily basis, celebrities tragically dying from overdoses and staggering statistics on overuse of the drugs.  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), physician prescribing continues to fuel the epidemic, as nearly half of the 33,000 opioid overdose deaths per year involve a prescription.  Examples of common opioid drugs include: OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Demerol, Vicodin and their generic counterparts, as well as the street drug heroin.

As a business owner or Human Resources leader, you may have taken notice of this, or perhaps been affected in your workplace.  A survey completed this year by the National Safety Council of 501 HR decision makers found that 71 percent of employers have seen direct effects of prescription drug misuse, most notably opioids.  Of those individuals, 29 percent cited impaired or decreased job performance and 15 percent stated the drugs have caused a workplace injury or near-injuries. Alarmingly, 10 percent reported having a worker overdose from opioids on or off the job.

This same survey found that only 19 percent of employers feel well prepared to handle an opioid-related situation with an employee.  Many cite their fears of violating an employment-related law such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because the drugs are legally prescribed.  =

Following are guidelines for protecting your business in these types of situations:

  • Understand that if an employee tests positive for an opioid on a drug test, the drug may have been prescribed for a protected reason covered by the ADA. Where your first reaction may be to discipline or fire the employee, you may be required to engage in the interactive process to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be provided.
  • Supervisors should be trained to recognize the signs of impairment. They should also be trained on the company drug-testing policy for reasonable suspicion and how the ADA could overlap.
  • Work closely with your human resource providers, healthcare benefits providers and workers’ compensation carriers to educate employees on the risks associated with opioid prescriptions and to make them aware of their options for confidential access to help and treatment.

BCN Services is here to assist you in determining if an employee is covered by the ADA, designing a compliant drug test policy and training for supervisors and employees.  If you have questions, please contact us at 1-800-891-9911.

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Alicia Freeman, Operations Manager