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Only 2 in 10 Employers Prepared to Deal with Painkiller Addiction

A new employer survey from the National Safety Council finds the majority of U.S. workplaces are dealing with employee prescription drug problems.

The survey, entitled "How the Prescription Drug Crisis Is Impacting American Employers," asked 501 human resources managers across industries to talk about prescription drug abuse at work. Bottom line: More than 70% said prescription drug misuse is impacting their companies, but only 19% feel prepared to deal with the problem.

Employers aren't offering employees training to spot signs of a prescription drug use problem in their colleagues: Slightly more than three-fourths (76%) of companies in the survey offer no training to employees whatsoever. While 57% of employers surveyed will drug test employees, 41% of these employers are not testing employees for synthetic opioids.


How is on-the-job drug use affecting employee performance? Affected employees are missing work (39%); using drugs at work (39%); having a positive drug test (32%); suffering impaired job performance (29%); dealing with a family member who is affected (29%); having their co-workers complain about them to HR (22%); experiencing a near miss or injury (15%); borrowing or selling drugs at work (14%); getting arrested on or off the job (10%); and overdosing (10%).

Employers are sympathetic to the prescription drug-addicted employee's plight: 71% surveyed think addiction is a disease. However, 65% also think addiction is a fireable offense. A 2009 study in the journal Pain Medicine estimated that employee painkiller addiction costs employers $25 billion annually.

U.S. employers could have a huge impact in educating employees about the perils of painkiller use. The National Safety Council recommends employers start by recognizing that prescription drugs are having a big impact in today's workplaces, and then put stronger policies in place. Employers can also expand their drug testing panels to screen for opioids, and offer training to help managers and employees spot signs of abuse.

The NSC also encourages employers to treat addiction like a disease, and to look into Employee Assistance Programs that can help employees get better and return to work. In fact, the survey reveals many employers would like to help addicted employees return to work. This is one area where we all need to work together.

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