A majority of U.S businesses are grappling with the effects of prescription drug abuse, according to new research from the National Safety Council. The group surveyed more than 500 human resources leaders on the subject and 70 percent attested to seeing demonstrable operational impact stemming from prescription drug dependency among employees.
“Employers must understand that the most dangerously misused drug today may be sitting in employees’ medicine cabinets,” Deborah A.P. Hersman, CEO and president for the NSC, said in a news release. “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.”
A national epidemic
This issue is of course the product of a much larger problem. Fatal overdoses linked to prescription drugs, or opiods, have increased dramatically since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 2000 and 2015, physician-distributed substances claimed the lives of more than 500,000 Americans. Now, an estimated 91 people die per day while overdosing on addictive painkillers such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and methadone.
Analysts at the CDC have linked the crisis to problematic prescription practices, as well as increased rates of painkiller distribution among friend and family. Doctors in some states write more than 100 opiod scripts per 100 patients. And, roughly half of all addicts gain access to drugs via a loved one with legitimate prescriptions.
These developments have garnered national attention, forcing local, state and federal authorities to act. State legislatures in hard-hit states regions have churned bills designed to limit opiod distribution practices among health care providers and bolster drug treatment resources for those ensnared in addiction. Last summer, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law robust legislation that instituted a seven-day cap on opiod prescriptions for first-time patients and minors, and provided funding for new treatment practices, according to state legislative records. Rhode Island passed a similar bill around the same time, The Providence Journal reported.
Congress offered its answer to the opiod crisis that July, passing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which bolstered national treatment programs, The New York Times reported. Despite these and other efforts, prescription drug abuse continues.
Addiction on the clock
This problem has naturally spilled over into the workplace, compromising the safety of both functioning opiod users and their fellow employees. Unfortunately, many organizations have not taken steps to address prescription drug abuse and its operational impact, according to the NSC survey. Only 19 percent of respondents said their companies were “extremely prepared” to deal with the problem and a mere 13 percent said employees were trained to identify those addicted to prescription drugs. Approximately 76 percent acknowledged that they did not offer instruction on the topic. Worse, more than half failed to administer drug tests.
This data did not line up with general attitudes toward the issue of opiod addiction, as 71 percent believed it to be a disease that requires serious medical attention. However, despite harboring sympathy for victims, 65 percent said drug dependency was a fireable offense.
This research from the NSC shows that employers must do more to address prescription drug abuse, an issue that directly affects almost half of all Americans. Establishing new programs and resources for workers dealing with prescription drug abuse not only aids the government and health care organizations fighting opiod addiction nationwide but also makes the workplace safer.