Drug Testing for Opioids: How Proper Testing Panels Can Help Your Organization Fight the Opioid Epidemic

Posted: December 08, 2017

Over the past several years, opioid use and abuse has been on the rise. So much so that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared an opioid epidemic, and President Donald Trump labelled it a “national emergency” earlier this year. Death rates from synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, rose a whopping 72.2 percent from 2014 to 2015 across the country, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For this reason, drug testing for opioids is a must in today’s workplace. Opioid Addiction: The Numbers & Causes 33,091 Americans died from opioid overdose in 2015, and 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. In total, more than 183,000 people have died from overdoses related to prescription opioid painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and morphine over the past 15 years.  Those numbers don’t seem to be going down, with opioid-related deaths even topping the charts for the most common causes of fatalities in some states. Sometimes, the abuse of opioids begins when patients are prescribed pain medication—a step which leads to a full-blown addiction to the euphoria it provides; or, it may begin as a recreational “hobby” an individual takes up to achieve a high. In either case, addiction to this substance is often quick and takes no prisoners. It’s just as likely regardless of race, class, or background. Why Must Employers Address Opioid Use? Pre-employment and continuous testing for opioids and street drugs are key to ensuring your working environment isn’t negatively affected and that your employees are happy, healthy, and drug-free. But keep in mind that it may be more difficult to fill positions when potential employees must pass a drug test for opiates. A 2017 article from the Federal Reserve highlights this issue. Having mentally aware workers with fast reflexes is important—especially when operating machinery is part of the job description—but opioids hinder brain function and productivity, resulting in an increase in workplace accidents and workers’ compensation claims. In a study of 25 states, the Workers Compensation Research Institute discovered that 88 percent of Arkansas’ workers’ compensation claims involved opioids. This is expensive for businesses, which must deal with disability claims, lowered productivity, absenteeism, and finding replacements for opioid users who vacate their positions. A combination of all of these factors adds up to an economic burden of $78.5 billion, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.   Educating employees is a crucial part of addressing the opioid crisis. Even if you have a zero-tolerance policy, communication should remain open on the issue. Teach and show employees how they can handle these issues if they or their family members have an opioid addiction. Taking a proactive approach can help prevent workers from becoming addicted to these volatile substances. A study by the National Safety Council found that only 24 percent of companies provide training or education to employees on opioid use. By incorporating these offers in your company, you can help benefit both your employees and society. What Else Can Human Resources Professionals Do? Along with investing in training across your organization, there are other steps your human resources department can take to discuss opioid abuse and mental health issues with employees.
  • Promote alternative pain management options, including osteopathic or chiropractic treatments. Consider hosting yoga, massage or chiropractic professionals on-site at your workplace.
  • Provide managers and supervisors with training to help them recognize the signs of opioid abuse and how they can help. They should know how to refer employees to medical treatment or directly to an employee assistance program (EAP).
  • Work with your pharmacy benefit manager(s) to ensure a fraud help hotline is available that can be used to report drug misuse or poor physician prescribing habits.
  • Run a data analysis of employee healthcare plans to understand which drugs employees are using and provide assistance to employees who have had previously documented drug abuse events.
  • Host “lunch and learns” to discuss opioid abuse and mental health issues in a relaxed setting. Provide free lunch if possible to entice employees to participate in this important topic.
  • Ensure your drug testing partner covers all major forms of street drugs and opioids when performing pre-employment or continuous drug testing.
Drug Testing for Opioids: Solutions from Info Cubic Info Cubic’s local and international drug and health testing solutions cover a wide variety of illegal substances as well as prescribed medications. Our standard 5-panel drug screen testing (urine, oral fluid or blood) covers the five major street drugs (amphetamine, cocaine, marijuana, opiates and phencyclidine (PCP)), and our DOT panel or comprehensive 10-panel screen adds additional substances. However, in order to cover opioids specifically, employers must opt for a panel including expanded opiates and/or expanded oxy. We work with one of the nation’s largest collection networks with 20,000+ collection sites (including Quest, LabCorp, Concentra and EMSI). Contact us today for additional information on screening that takes into consideration opioids or other drug testing options.   *Note: If you or someone you know is addicted to prescription drugs, help is available. Call the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration 24/7 hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).