Opioid Epidemic in the Workforce
According to a national survey conducted in 2015, around two out of every three people who reported misusing opioids and prescription painkillers were still on their company’s payroll. While this has an effect on the overall productivity of the workforce, it also puts the safety of those addicted to painkillers and their coworkers at risk, especially in jobs that involve heavy machinery.
While some employers are attempting to crack down on abuse of opioids among their workforce through random drug tests, others shy away from that because they worry about how many workers they would potentially lose.
At the moment, the National Safety Council reports that 57 percent of employers conduct drug tests, but more than 40 percent of those that do don’t test for prescription painkillers like oxycodone, one of the most commonly abused opiates. This will change for many federal government employees very soon – starting in October, employees who are required to take drug tests will be required to submit to more extensive screenings. Private companies won’t need to follow the same changes, but officials expect many to follow the government’s lead.
However, some employers remain reluctant to test for drugs in general, even those running factories filled with heavy machinery.
“I have heard manufacturers over the years say, ‘We wish we didn’t have to test for drugs,’ because they lose money when they can’t fill those positions,’’ said Mike Galiazzo, president of the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland.
Employers are worried about what they see as a shortage of skilled workers, even in cities like Baltimore where the unemployment rate is nearly 2 percent higher than the rest of the country. An increasing number of economists believe that the opioid epidemic is at least partially to cause for this, and Alan Krueger, a professor of economics at Princeton University, estimates that 20 percent of the drop among male workers is directly related to drug addiction.
About 29 percent of employers surveyed by the NSC reported that prescription painkillers impaired the job performance of their employees, and 15 percent were able to cite instances where drug use caused injuries and near-misses. Even in blatant uses of drugs, some employers would rather not fire their workers.
“We caught someone recently, saw him injecting,’’ said Jay Steinmetz, chief executive of Barcoding Inc. “Once we witnessed this we were forced to take action
[or break the law]
Could he have worked with opioids in his body? Absolutely.’’
The opioid epidemic is making an increasing number of headlines across the United States, but the problem remains, and will remain for quite some time until all areas contributing to the problem are addressed. Here at Schick Shadel Hospital, we are working to provide people looking for help with the resources they need to get clean and move on with their lives free from addiction. Call us at (800) 272-8464 to learn how we can help, or send us a message through our online form today.