Opioids in the Workplace


You’ve heard of painkillers and how they can help manage your worst ailments. However, you may not be familiar with the side effects that come with them.

Addiction to prescription painkillers, or opioids, is a national emergency. Nearly 100 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, with over 40,000 opioid-related deaths each year. Shockingly, many of these instances started with a routine doctor visit.

The opioid crisis isn't just crippling our nation's health and causing an immeasurable amount of pain to those who have lost loved ones. From impaired job performance to absenteeism and arrests, there are several negative side effects of opioid abuse that impact employers.

What Are Opioids? Opioids are extremely common—perhaps more than you realize. The CDC defines opioids as “a class of drugs used to reduce pain.” If you’re using a painkiller, chances are it can be defined as an opioid.

However, not all opioids are the same. There is a wide range of legal and illegal drugs that are classified as opioids. For example, Vicodin, a legal painkiller commonly prescribed to patients, is an opioid. By comparison, heroin, an illegally manufactured drug that has no medical use, is also an opioid.

Below are some other common opioids. If you have chronic pain, you probably know at least one of these drugs:

- OxyContin - Percocet - Codeine - Methadone - Fentanyl

How Can I Reduce My Risk of Addiction? Opioid abuse is not happening in a vacuum. Even if you are not using opioids, your life may be affected by loved ones who are. This can indirectly affect your job performance and contribute to the overall opioid crisis. Lasting reform can only happen if individuals take charge of their situation, and educating yourself is the first step toward healthy pain management.

Don’t be tricked into thinking opioids are your only option for chronic pain. Speak with your doctor or visit cdc.gov/opioids to learn more about opioid-free treatment options or to seek help for an opioid addiction.

Consider legalities of workplace drug policies Employers should also consult legal counsel and carefully consider the legalities of workplace drug policies when they suspect an employee is suffering from opioid abuse.

From confronting employees who may have a prescription drug problem to implementing drug testing policies, there are several important legal issues to consider so that companies do not put themselves at risk for litigation.

In light of the opioid epidemic the country is currently facing, now is an optimal time to revisit workplace drug policies. The NSC survey found that an astonishing 81 percent of U.S. employers were missing a critical element in their workplace drug policies.

From lacking clarity on issues such as employee use of prescription drugs at work, to return to work policies for employees taking impairing medications, the survey revealed several alarming oversights within the vast majority of workplace drug policies.

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