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Fisher & Phillips Offers Employers a Prescription for Treating Opioid Abuse in the Workplace

Nearly 2.1 Million Americans are Addicted to Opioids; Opioid Abuse Costs Employers More Than $25 Billion Annually

San Antonio, TX, February 27, 2016 --( Abuse of prescription opiates, otherwise known as opioids, which includes oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and codeine, is spreading across America. Nearly 2.1 million Americans are addicted to opioids according to statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services. John Heller, an attorney in the San Antonio office of Fisher & Phillips, a national management-side labor and employment law firm, warns that the spread of opioid abuse could significantly impact employees who suffer from addiction and their employers.

“The greatest impact of opioid abuse is seen in people ages 25 to 64, according to the Centers for Disease Control,” said Heller. “This should be a major wake-up call for employers, since this age group comprises the majority of our workforce. Further exasperating employers’ concerns is the impact that opioid abuse may have on employers’ bottom lines, which has been estimated as more than $25 billion annually.”

The increased prevalence of opioid abuse in the past decade has prompted the Obama administration to request an additional $1.1 billion from Congress to combat prescription painkiller and heroin abuse.

“Opioid abuse is not only an issue the government must face, but also one employers must respond to,” said Heller. “Employees who are abusing opioids may create problems for employers, ranging from hurting client relationships to injuring or killing others while operating heavy machinery. Employers should take action to reduce the risk of incidents, as well as confront the issue of lost productivity.”

According to Heller, employers should provide employees with information on opioid abuse and programs to help them overcome addiction. Employers should also implement drug testing policies that address opioid use and abuse. Below is Heller’s Rx for combating opioid addiction in the workplace:

1. Expand Testing – Most employers use the standard five-panel test that detects commonly used illegal drugs. This test does not detect semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone that are legal with a prescription. As opioid abuse continues to rise, employers should consider implementing drug tests that detect the use of legally prescribed medicine such as benzodiazepines, oxycodone and methadone, and possibly hydromorphone or fentanyl, all commonly prescribed opioids.

Employers should determine what may prompt the decision to drug test employees. Will the company institute random testing? Are managers trained to spot symptoms of drug abuse? Can a manager request that an employee be tested when they believe it is warranted? Employers should share these policies with employees and include the policies in their employee handbooks.

2. Review Results – Enlist the services of a licensed, independent medical review officer (MRO) to receive and review drug test results. A good MRO plays a vital role in establishing and maintaining the integrity of the testing process. They also serve as a resource when determining drug-testing practices.

3. Develop Policies – Develop appropriate drug policies.

Policies should:
· State that all employees who are taking over-the-counter or prescription medicine are responsible for consulting their physician or pharmacist about whether the medication could interfere with the safe performance of their job.

· Explain that if an employee is using any medicine that could impair their senses or otherwise endanger the safety of anyone in the workplace, the employee must notify a supervisor or company physician, and either take time off or request a change in duties to avoid potentially unsafe situations.

· Ban the illegal or unauthorized use of prescription medicine and state that misuse of prescription medicine represents a serious violation of company policy and could result in termination.

· Protect the privacy and dignity of everyone being tested.

4. Prepare Employees – Prepare the workforce for the roll out of any changes to the company’s drug testing procedures. Employers should inform employees of the changes; explain why they were made, such as to test for legally prescribed medications (use of statistics and data are recommended when justifying these changes to employees); stress that test results will be handled confidentially and reviewed by a limited number of people; and provide employees with educational materials on opioids and programs to combat opioid abuse. Supervisors should receive additional training on the new procedures and be prepared to answer employees’ questions.

Heller recommends employers develop a plan to address opioid abuse now, before left with a lawsuit after an impaired employee injures himself or someone else.
Contact Information
Fisher & Phillips - San Antonio
Morgan Sanders

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