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SLC 2017: Opioids in the Workplace

Employers that provide assistance to workers affected by drug abuse have a lower turnover rate.

There were 4.453 billion prescriptions were written in 2016, according to Statista.com

Each of these prescriptions came with a list of different side effects, and they have a big impact on the workplace, Mark Gomsak, Fisher Phillips attorney, told attendees at the Safety Leadership Conference in Atlanta.

With the estimated yearly economic impact of $193 billion for illicit drug use, employers must have strong policies in place to address drug abuse while ensuring they comply with legal requirements. In addition, educating workers and treating substance abuse problems as a disease is crucial to a positive work environment.

There are five key components to an effective substance abuse program: written policy, effective and accurate drug testing, employee education, supervisor training and an employee assistance program.

A strong written policy should come with a clear, written verbage on expectations and behaviors that violate the policy, what substances are included in testing and the consequences of abuse.

“Don’t just grab a policy from the internet and implement it,” Gomsak said.

Testing and Misuse

Drug testing comes with its own set of legal requirements. Reasonable suspicion must be based on reliable information or evidence that an employee has reported to or is at work with drugs or alcohol in his/her system. In addition, random drugs tests must be truly random, such as using a computer generator.

“Always document evidence so there are no questions as to what you saw,” he told attendees.

A good company drug policy also provides education and training for workers on the safe handling of medicines at home, the risks associated with misuse and how to spot impairment/misuse on the job.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

Recovery rates are higher when a worker enters a program through his or her employer rather than seeking help from family and friends. A strong drug-testing program should be supported by an effective EAP, where employees can go confidentially for information, support or even treatment, he said.

“Studies have shown employee-sponsored rehabilitation to be more effective,” Gomsak said. “Give them the tools to be treated and return to work as a productive employee.”

(The presentation in this session – “Opioid Abuse in the Workplace: Using Effective Drug Testing and Policies to Reduce the Pain of the Painkiller Epidemic” – is available in a special webinar presentation. Just click on the link in the presentation title to register and view.)

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