Employers weigh in on worker misuse of opioids

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COLUMBIA - Amid a rise in prescription drug abuse, employers are often hit hard.

A survey released Thursday by the National Safety Council looked at U.S. employers' experiences with and perception of prescription drugs, as well as the policies they have in place to deal with them. 

Results revealed more than 70 percent of U.S. employers feel the direct impact of prescription drug misuse in their workplaces. 

It also found 71 percent of employers agree that prescription drug misuse is a disease that requires treatment. However, 65 percent feel it is a justifiable reason to fire an employee.

Nikki Ogle, an employee at D-Tap, a Columbia drug screening site, said most of the screening it gets is for illegal drugs, but that has been changing.

"There has been a rise in prescription drug tests just because there is that rise in people abusing them," Ogle said. 

Employers in Columbia have different ways of handling the issue.

Some large employers in Columbia don't even have drug screening policies. The University of Missouri main campus does not screen for drugs unless it is specially required by state or federal law, like in the case of commercial licenses. 

On the contrary, MU Hospital does screen for those drugs. It sent KOMU 8 News this statement:

“University of Missouri Health Care has conducted a comprehensive drug screening as part of our employee application process for more than 10 years. The screening tests for illegal drug use as well as opioid use, and always has. If a potential applicant tests positive for an opioid, then our third-party testing company conducts a further investigation to ensure that the opioid has both been prescribed to that specific individual by a physician, and that it is medically necessary.”

The vice president of Human Resources for Missouri Book Services (MBS), Jerome Rader, said the company uses a five-tiered system of drug screening for new employees.

"We are looking at the illegal drugs that we use, and opiates are a part of that," Rader said. 

If someone's test comes back positive for an opiate, Rader said, they do have the chance to explain themselves. 

"We ask, inquire, if they have prescriptions for that to evaluate that to see if that would be a valid response," Rader said. "If they do have the prescriptions we're fine. If not, then that becomes the issue for us."

National Safety Council president and CEO Deborah Hersman said it's not just abuse of prescription drugs that's the problem.

“Even when they are taken as prescribed, prescription drugs and opioids can impair workers and create hazards on the job," Hersman said.

At MBS, there is a policy to address this. 

"We ask employees that if they are taking a prescription that may affect the ability to do their job that they notify us at work so we can evaluate if they're able to do those jobs safely," Rader said. "So that is a little dependent of that individual notifying us of that usage, but that is a part of the policy." 

Rader said the company has not had much trouble with people abusing prescription drugs, or failing to report the use of prescription drugs.

"We do the initial screening at the time of employment," he said. "We do screening after work-related injuries, and we do screenings on a for-cause basis but that's really rare, honestly."