Most Americans take prescribed medication as the doctor intended. Yet roughly 48 million people (aged 12 and older), according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons in their lifetime. To put that in perspective, that figure represents approximately 20% of the U.S. population.

Rampant prescription drug abuse has steadily seeped into the American workplace, as well.  Approximately 70% of businesses say it affects their workers, a new survey reveals. The National Safety Council report found that while 71 percent of employers believe that abuse of opioid prescription painkillers is a disease that requires treatment, 65 percent also consider it a justifiable reason to fire a worker.

“Even when they are taken as prescribed, prescription drugs and opioids can impair workers and create hazards on the job. We hope these findings prompt employers to take the lead on this emerging issue so that workplaces can be as safe as possible,” Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the safety council, added in a safety council news release.

Are Employers Prepared to Deal with Prescription Drug Use?

Only 19% of employers said they felt “extremely prepared” to deal with prescription drug abuse in their workplace, only 13 percent were “very confident” that workers could spot signs of misuse, yet an eye-opening 76% do not offer training on the topic.

Fifty-seven percent of employers said all employees underwent drug testing. Of those who conduct drug testing, 41 percent do not test for synthetic opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl. The survey also found that 81 percent of employers’ policies lack at least one major element of an effective drug-free workplace program.

“Employers must understand that the most dangerously misused drug today may be sitting in employees’ medicine cabinets,” said Hersman.

While 88 percent of employers said they would be interested in having their insurer cover alternative pain relief treatments so workers could avoid taking narcotic painkillers, 30 percent of those employers said they would not act on that interest.

On a positive note, 70 percent of employers did say they would help workers struggling with prescription drug abuse return to their jobs after completing treatment.

The survey was released online March 9 by the National Safety Council.

To see a snapshot of how substance abuse is affecting your workplace, the National Safety Council has even created an online calculator that can provide some instant insight. If you need help with drug testing policies and procedures, setting up drug testing for your workplace, or getting supervisor training for the detection of drugs, please reach out to Melissa Foiles at Applicant Information at (404) 490-4155.