The leading cause of accidental deaths in this country is drug overdose. In fact, more Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016 than died throughout the entire Vietnam War, according to Vox.
Much of the blame is due to the nation’s opioid epidemic. To gain a better understanding of why this is happening, some history may be helpful.
Back in the 1990s, doctors began treating pain as a serious medical issue. Pharmaceuticals took advantage of this concern by aggressively marketing opiates as an effective method for killing or minimizing acute or chronic pain. You know their names: Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Codeine, Morphine, Fentanyl, Vicodin and others. In many instances, doctors began prescribing them liberally. Opiates soon ended up in the hands of patients and others using them recreationally and then sold on the black market. Since then, the number of people using painkillers has proliferated nationwide, producing an opiate crisis.
Opiates are a class of drugs that interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the brain and nervous system to produce pleasurable effects and relieve pain, says the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
Of the 20.5 million Americans (age 12 or older) who had a substance abuse disorder in 2015, two million were addicted to prescription pain relievers while another 591,000 were addicted to heroin. That same year, 20,101 overdose deaths were related to prescription pain relievers and nearly 13,000 deaths to heroin.
Employees who use opiates work in every occupation, every industry. Just as problematic, the drug testing panels that some employers use may not even test for commonly abused opiates or other substances.
Keep in mind that the health care cost of just prescription opioid abuse in 2013 nationwide was estimated at $26 billion, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
The Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) also conducted a study of 25 states that revealed that most workers’ compensation claims involve opioid use. Just as alarming, more than 70 percent of more severely-injured workers with pain medication received opioids in the majority of study states.
“Research finds that high doses and prolonged use of opioids may lead to addiction, increased disability or work loss, and even death,” says Ramona Tanabe, WCRI’s executive vice president and counsel.
Never assume or take anything for granted. Verify that the company that performs your drug tests for job candidates or employees uses drug panels that test for expanded opiates and other current or popular drugs.
Besides testing, there’s still more you can do. Launch an education campaign about the proper use of opioids and dangers of their misuse. Also create a workplace culture where employees feel safe seeking assistance regarding opioid abuse, if needed.
This drug epidemic is real. You can play a critical role in preventing it from escalating even more out-of-control by being proactive and educated about the different vendors who offer drug testing and the types of tests currently available. Otherwise, you may be unnecessarily placing your employees, bottom line and even company brand at risk.