“Drug overdoses, predominately from opioids, now exceed car crashes as the leading cause of unintentional death.”  National Safety Council

In its publication “The proactive role employers can take: OPIOIDS IN THE WORKPLACE,” The National Safety Council describes, “a disturbing trend

[which] has been emerging in the workplace, and it is driven by the use and abuse of opioid painkillers – now the most widely prescribed pain relievers and most highly abused prescription drug.”

Organizations have an obligation to provide a safe, secure workplace for all employees. Safety plays an important role in creating a healthy environment, which in turn improves productivity, which is critical to success.

Of the more than 38,000 people that died of drug overdoses in 2010, 44 percent were tied to prescription opioids. “Overdose deaths from prescription opioids now exceed deaths from both heroin and cocaine combined …. More than twice as many Americans have died from this prescription opioid overdose epidemic than during the Vietnam War.” (NSC)

Yet, much opioid abuse in the workplace goes undetected, until it’s too late. It often starts with a pain med legitimately prescribed for an injury, and the employee becomes addicted. Some who use these prescription pain medications begin to use them recreationally. Others sell them to recreational users. These recreational users of pain meds often “graduate” to heroin. We at InOut Labs have the experience of seeing and talking to these users, as many come to us for random testing as part of their recovery process.

These addicts appear and behave like anyone else, are people you may work with, and are accidents waiting to happen.

“I lost 17 of my friends to overdoses,” one of them told me. I asked if it was before or after the switch to heroin. “Before,” was the answer. It was the prescription painkillers that did them in.

A 5-panel drug test will detect only a limited number of opiates (codeine, morphine, and usually heroin), but will not detect use of such commonly used drugs as OxyContin®, Vicodin®, or their cousins. To detect the broadest spectrum of commonly abused drugs, it’s best to use a 10-panel test that includes extended opiates.

You will undoubtedly find a few people with legitimate prescriptions, but the MRO process will sort that out.

Also, according to the National Safety Council:

  • Since 1999, annual deaths from prescription drug overdoses has more than doubled.
  • 45 people die every day from overdoses of prescription pain relievers. This is twice the number of fatal overdoses from illegal drugs. And more than three times the number of people who die per day due to occupational injuries.
  • Drug treatment admissions for prescription opioids increased seven-fold between 1998 and 2010 — from 19,941 to 157,171.
  • There are nearly two million people in the U.S. who are currently addicted to opioid pain relievers.
  • One in six teens has misused or abused prescription pain relievers.
  • From 2000 to 2009, the number of opioid prescriptions per 100 people increased by 35% and the number of morphine milligram equivalents prescribed doubled.

Prescription opiates play an important role in managing pain. And most people who use them do so properly. But often their use gets out of control for the user, and many unintentionally get addicted. Some are embarrassed and feel helpless. For others, abusing prescription meds is just a search for the next high. In either case, employers need to be aware of the risks to safety, productivity and company culture. And health.

Detecting someone with a prescription drug problem may indeed save a life.

InOut Labs can help.