Rise in Opiate Abuse

Workers testing positive for opiate abuse is on the rise. The rise is indicated across all areas of testing - random, pre-employment, and post accident drug tests are all affected. In the last four years there has been an 18% increase according to Quest Diagnostics.

Morphine, codeine, oxycodone and hydrocodone and illegal drugs such as opium and heroine are all considered opiates. Doctors are increasingly prescribing pain medication (morphine, codeine etc.) and so it comes as no surprise that more people are testing positive for the substance.

Dr. Sanford Silverman suggests that doctors are in fact over-prescribing the medication. "There are now 'pill mills' for pain management," says Silverman. "They dole out pills and it's a total farce." Dr. Silverman is an anesthesiologist with the organization The Pain Truth, an outreach program aimed at fighting the misuse of prescription pain medication.

The rise in opiate positives is on the rise due to the fact that more companies are drug testing, and their drug testing programs have become more sophisticated and frequent. Also, the types of tests available have allowed more substances to be tested.

Opiate usage may affect workplace accidents. Post-accident drug tests are more likely to find opiates than pre-employment tests. "Look at the warning labels on these medications. They carry warnings about using those drugs and driving, using those drugs and operating machinery - so clearly there is potential for impacting safety while one is using those drugs," says Barry Sample, director of science and technology at Quest.

Be wary of firing somebody soley because they fail a drug test because the employee could bring lititgation. To avoid potential lawsuits, employers should always ask what types of medications the employee is taking before performing the drug test. Not to ask why the employee is taking it, just creating a record of medication. Employers should also develop a written policy that requires employees to disclose their information.