With drug overdoses becoming the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50, the misuse of prescription opioids has reached alarming levels. Last year an estimated 50,000 Americans died from opioid-related overdoses, and a recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration disclosed two million Americans have developed various medical disorders from abusing prescription medications.
The most abused opioids include painkillers of the kind frequently prescribed following workplace injuries, such as oxycodone, morphine, hydrocodone and fentanyl, which are found in hundreds of thousands of household medicine cabinets across the country.
Opioids interact with certain nerve receptors in the brain to create pleasurable feelings and relieve pain—and they come with high risk for dependency. The disastrous effects of opioid abuse can unfortunately extend to the workplace. What role can employers play to combat this epidemic?
Workplace Effects Of Opioids
Regardless of how an employee’s opioid abuse may begin, these drugs can have dramatic effects on work performance. Opioid dependency may lead to drowsiness, impaired judgment, anxiety and depression. Dependent or addicted employees may find it difficult to meet attendance or performance requirements and may also pose safety threats to themselves and others. In addition, the opioid-dependent employee’s preoccupation with obtaining his or her drug of choice could lead to criminal behavior such as theft.
Four Important Lessons For Employers
Without a doubt, now is the time to rethink your drug testing and counseling programs to keep your employees and workplace safe. A focus on education, prevention and counseling may help reduce the impact of opioid use on your workplace. When executing a plan to deal with this issue, consider these four components:
Although opioid use continues to increase at a disturbing rate, many employers have not effectively addressed this concern in the workplace. While there is no perfect approach or plan, working with legal counsel to take proactive steps and avoid risks to your employees is a good place to start.
Michael V. Abcarian is the managing partner of the Dallas office of Fisher Phillips, a national labor and employment law firm. For over 30 years he has represented Fortune 500 corporations, units of local government, and local business interests in labor and employment matters. He has handled hundreds of lawsuits in federal and state courts with an exceptional success record, including lead counsel defense of complex litigation and nationwide class actions. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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