How to Prevent Use of Painkillers & Opioids in the Workplace

Tammy Cohen, PHR, SHRM-CP
May 3 2016
We’ve all heard stories, and maybe even know someone, who developed an addition to painkillers after hurting their back or getting a prescription due to chronic pain. The story is so proliferate that it’s almost cliché, but that’s really how it happens for thousands of people every year.
  • 47,055 people died of drug overdoses in the US in 2014.
  • More than 40% of lethal drug overdoses in 2014 were related to prescription pain relievers.
  • More than 22% of lethal drug overdoses that year were related to heroin.
  • 1.9 million Americans had a substance abuse disorder involving prescription pain relievers in 2014.
  • 586,000 Americans had a substance abuse disorder involving heroin in 2014.

Painkiller and Opioid addiction has become a modern epidemic that takes the lives of 44 people every day in just the US. People with families, jobs, and responsibilities develop addictions that impact them and everyone around them, from children and friends to coworkers and customers.


Improve Employee Health while Cutting Costs Associated with Drug Addiction

The National Safety Council expects that approximately 80% of US employers have felt the effects of employee prescription abuse. From healthcare costs to productivity and operational losses, Opioid and painkiller addiction costs businesses more than $60 billion each year.

Misuse of prescriptions painkillers and opioids in the workplace often contributes to:

  • Increases in critical errors, injuries, and incidents
  • More frequent and/or longer-term disability leave
  • Higher costs related to Worker’s Compensation, insurance fraud, medical care, and treatment
  • Lost productivity

Minimizing risk in the workplace is a high priority for many employers and contributes to the growing importance of pre-employment due diligence measures like background checks and drug testing. However, testing firm Quest Diagnostics reports that only 13% of drug tests screen for prescription painkillers, which are becoming more impactful on the workplace as this kind of addiction increases.

48 states have begun programs that monitor drug prescriptions and try to keep individuals from accessing painkillers through multiple doctors. In the legislative arena, the Senate recently passed a bill that authorizes state grants for education, prevention, and treatment of drug addiction. Such monitoring and legislative measures may stymie increases in the addiction rate, and the workplace can help.


4 Steps to Preventing Use of Painkillers and Opioids in the Workplace

A crucial first step is to recognize that prescription painkiller dependence and addiction are problems that impact both the personal and professional lives of employees, and go on to affect business goals and your organization’s bottom line. Organizational education, awareness, and prevention can help businesses improve the health of their employees and cut healthcare costs associated with addiction.


1. Review workplace policies related to prescription drugs

According to the National Safety Council, employers that create strong drug policies encourage “safe and healthy environments in which both employees and business thrive.” Review your organization’s policies to ensure that candidates and employees can be made aware of any potential employment consequences they could face in regard to drugs and misuse and abuse of opioids in the workplace. Workplace drug policies should cover:

  • Illicit drug use, including employee use of drugs without a prescription
  • Prescription drug use and abuse at work, as well as leadership notification procedures
  • Organizational actions taken after drug testing failure
  • Organizational provision related to an employee seeking treatment
  • Return-to-work policies
  • Disciplinary actions that may be taken if the policy is violated


2. Educate your workforce

Leadership and employees should be aware of and educated about workplace drug policies beyond merely being advised to read a policy.

Candidates must be provided policies and procedures during onboarding. Go over the policy with all new hires and use real-world examples to ensure they understand the organization’s stance on opioids and other drugs in and out of the workplace.

You should also review policies with all employees annually or semi-annually to ensure everyone is on the same page. Should you make changes to your policies, you can share with employees the reasons for these changes as well as how the changes may affect them now or in the future.

If policy changes are made, a drug-related event happens at work, or a news event causes concern in your organization, you may want to go over your policies again to ensure your workforce understands the changes and/or the potential impacts of the event or news.


3. Drug test

Most businesses conduct basic drug tests on their employees, but less than 60% test for the prescription painkillers, such as synthetic Opioids and Methadone, that can be identified with extensive drug screenings. Additionally, drug testing for current employees is uncommon, according to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), which may contribute to prescription addiction.

Many organizations conduct post-employment drug testing after an accident or due to reasonable suspicion, but fewer than half conduct random screening on their entire workforce. Conducting post-hire drug testing at random intervals can help your organization encourage a drug-free workplace, prevent abuse and misuse of prescription painkillers and opioids in the workplace, and better identify if there are drug-related issues to resolve.


4. Offer assistance & alternatives

With all the time and effort it normally takes to hire, onboard, and train a new employee, it may not be in your organization’s best interest to simply terminate someone who develops an addiction. Assist employees in creating plans to better their health and workplace productivity, and you can save their livelihood and improve your organization.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are purchased by more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies because they provide positive returns on their investment. EAPs can provide prescription painkiller treatments such as detoxification, counseling, and medication replacement that prove more effective at promoting sustained recovery than personally-initiated addiction treatment.

Employee health plans provide options for treating substance abuse that may actually support prescription dependence. If prescription drugs are currently an easier or cheaper alternative to homeopathic or therapeutic treatments, consider reviewing and/or changing your benefits plan to make non-prescription treatments more affordable and/or conveniently accessible to employees, further mitigating the likelihood of misuse of opioids in the workplace.


Healthy Staff Build Better Businesses

Even though painkillers are usually prescribed by doctors and intended to help people cope and move forward, they can have the opposite effect. Dependence and addiction are often unavoidable consequences of the drug-induced pain relief that becomes physiologically necessary to function, and those effects can seep into every part of a person’s life, including their work.

Drug testing can help employers identify issues of opioids in the workplace, as well as other illegal substances, and plan a course for assisting afflicted employees with getting treatment. Additionally, detailed drug policies and prevention plans help employers educate their workforce on the consequences of drug misuse and abuse, as well as facilitate a safer workplace for everyone.

Conduct pre- and post-employment drug testing for your employees to help prevent or end the painkiller addiction epidemic and use of opioids in the workplace.

About Tammy Cohen

Tammy Cohen, an industry pioneer and expert in identity and employment screening, founded InfoMart 30 years ago. Deemed the “Queen of Screen,” she’s been a force behind industry-leading innovations. She was most recently the first-to-market with a fully compliant sanctions search, as well as a suite of identity services that modernizes talent onboarding. Tammy revolutionized the screening industry when she stepped into the field, developing the first client-facing application and a due diligence criminal search that has since become standard for all background screening companies. Cohen has received national awards and honors for her business and civic involvement, including Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Top 25 Women-Owned Firms in Atlanta, Enterprising Women Magazine’s Enterprising Women of the Year award, the YWCA of Northwest Georgia’s Kathryn Woods Racial Justice Award, and a commendation in the 152nd Congressional Record. To learn more about Tammy, visit

About InfoMart

InfoMart has been revolutionizing the global background and identity screening industry for 30 years, providing businesses the information they need to make informed hiring decisions. They develop innovative technology that modernizes talent onboarding, including a first-to-market biometric identity authentication application and a verified sanctions search. The WBENC-certified company is a founding member of the Professional Background Screening Association, and they have achieved PBSA accreditation in recognition of their consistent business practices and commitment to compliance with the FCRA. The company is dedicated to customer service, speed, and accuracy, and it has been recognized for its success, workplace culture, and corporate citizenship with over 45 industry awards. To Get the Whole Story on InfoMart, please visit, follow @InfoMartUSA, or call (770) 984-2727.

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