The five-panel drug test has for years been a standard practice to keep companies clean. Today, however, it seems as if that’s not enough.
It’s common knowledge that drug use and hard work don’t mix. For this reason, the standard practice for most companies is to perform drug tests on incoming and current employees.
The reasons are obvious — drug users and abusers can create potentially dangerous situations for themselves and others, are less productive, are absent more frequently, have a negative social impact, and generally contribute to a poor work atmosphere.
In theory, drug testing should solve this problem. Although some people are bound to slip through the cracks, drug screening ideally either catches active drug users or acts as a deterrent that prevents most employees from using — especially on the job.
However, a new generation of drugs has created a fresh host of problems that aren’t detected by current drug testing techniques. Surprisingly, these drugs are perfectly legal — they are prescription painkillers, and they are wreaking some significant havoc on our society.
According to an illuminating blog post from the law firm Fisher & Phillips, opioid painkillers are a serious new threat that requires immediate attention from employers.
While the standard five-panel drug test used by most companies catches heroin, cocaine, marijuana, PCP, and amphetamines, these pills can actually slip by undetected. They’re called semi-synthetic opioids, which trigger a bodily response to the one provoked by opioids without bearing the same identifying marker.
The drugs include hydrocodone, oxycodone, benzodiazepines, methadone, dilaudid, and fentanyl. They’re all highly addictive, frequently abused, and often lead to tragic overdoses.
The numbers tell a surprising and disconcerting story: in the 25-to-64-year-old age range, about 71% of all fatal drug overdoses are tied to prescription opioids, far exceeding the combined number of cocaine- and heroin-related deaths. In fact, in this same demographic, more people die annually from prescription drug overdoses than from car crashes.
This has something to do with the alarming rate at which we’re consuming these drugs: according to the National Institutes of Health, Americans consume about 80% of the global opioid supply, 99% of which is hydrocodone, one of the most highly abused varieties.
The takeaway is that these types of drugs should be treated by employers with the same seriousness as any other substance. The tricky thing is that they’re perfectly legal — opioids have certified medical uses as painkillers, and are highly effective, if not necessary for some patients.
As a result, they’re frequently prescribed for common ailments. This genuinely helps people when they’re suffering from injuries or recovering from surgery, but has certainly contributed to a surplus of the drugs, which are then frequently sold and abused.
The bottom line is that you don’t want an employee operating machinery, driving, or performing any critical tasks while under the influence of these drugs. The best solution, recommended by Fisher & Phillips, is to broaden your drug test base to include opioids — especially benzodiazepines, oxycodone, and methadone.
Before you change your policy, you’ll want to make it clear that employees should be honest and upfront about any prescriptions that might affect their work performance. It should also be unambiguously communicated that any abuse will not be tolerated, whether the drugs are legal or not.
In pursuit of thoroughness, you may want to perform background checks on employees with a firm like Integrated Security Services to glean which employees have a history of, or predilection for, drug abuse.
What is clear is that companies have consistently underestimated the threats posed by new and varied drugs, and this pernicious problem has already taken its toll. More than anything, it’s important to stay informed and promote a healthy dialogue in the workplace about these crucial matters.