CONTACT Safety in the face of an opioid epidemic - TSS Safety
I started putting this together to discuss the effects of opioids in the workplace. Then I started thinking “what workplace?  Construction, retail, office, maybe driving a truck?”  It’s easy and graphic when thinking of operating equipment like tub grinders, or wood chippers, if you put your arm in the wrong place and you’re not paying attention, it’s going to pull you in.  When that happens, maybe the person loses an arm, or maybe they just die.  It’s not a good place to be high. So, for the sake of this article, the workplace is anywhere you want it to be. Maybe even your own workplace.
Drug abuse in the workforce is an increasing challenge for American businesses. Although much attention has been paid to the opioid epidemic’s role in keeping people off the job or out of work, over fifty percent of people who report misusing pain-relievers are currently on the job. No matter where the workplace is, these employees tend to show reduced productivity and in the worst of cases, they can be a danger to themselves, their co-workers and the public at-large.

High costs associated with employee drug use

Many employers either have adopted or claim to have adopted a zero-tolerance policy. In doing so, and in implementing a drug screening program the direct costs add up. The cost to the lab test, the cost of the employee being away from work to get tested.  Additionally, companies waste money training workers who subsequently quit or are fired when they fail the drug test.
Then there are the added or indirect costs.  For example, one benefits provider estimates that opioid abusers cost employers nearly twice as much in health-care expenses as their clean co-workers – a national average of an extra $8,600 a year.
 According to the National Safety Council, 57 percent of employers say they perform drug tests, out of those, more than 40 percent don’t screen for synthetic opioids like oxycodone which is among the most widely abused opioids, and one of the substances that new federal rules are targeting. Opioids killed about 33,000 Americans in 2015, more than any other year on record.
Hiring people who can pass a drug screen is becoming tougher. While the economy has steadily added jobs in the last few years, the available pool of workers hasn’t kept pace. Drugs are probably at least partly to blame for that, too. There’s a growing consensus among economists that opioid abuse has contributed to the shrinking workforce.
The National Safety Council survey found that 29 percent of employers reported impaired job performance due to prescription-painkiller use, while 15 percent cited an injury or near miss that they attributed to the drugs. Almost 70 percent said their workforce had been affected in some way.

Safety through drug screening

As awareness grows, prescriptions of such painkillers has been leveling off, and deaths from prescription drugs are showing signs of stabilizing in some locales.
But in many cities and states, users are turning to heroin or illegal synthetics like fentanyl. Not only are those drugs more dangerous, they can also be difficult to catch. Heroin metabolizes very quickly and Fentanyl, not being in the standard drug panel, can be a costly drug screen.
Many employers are required by regulation to have a drug and alcohol testing program.  However, every employer in every industry should give consideration to implementing a strong drug and alcohol testing program.  When a drug and alcohol testing program is combined with a commitment to developing safety policies & procedures and safe work practices, the message sent to all employees and customers alike cannot be understated.  Key elements to any drug and alcohol testing policies include reasonable cause and random testing programs. Many employers have implemented employee assistance programs for employees who self-disclose a problem. These employee assistance programs show the employee that they are valued by providing access to treatment in order for the employee to keep their job while learning positive life-skills to help them succeed.

TSS Inc is here to help

Whether your company needs a policy update, to implement different safety strategies or help with training in drug use awareness, we are a full-service provider that can serve you as you work to meet your safety goals.  Let us know how we can help you do what YOU DO BEST!
David Martin, Safety Coordinator
TSS INC.