More and more American workers and job applicants test positive for prescription opiates. In more than 5.5 million urine drug tests Quest Diagnostics revealed an 18% jump in opiate positives in the general workforce in a single year (2008-2009) and a more than 40% increase from 2005-2009. More disconcerting, 2009 post-accident drug tests revealed that opiates are found four times more often than in pre-employment tests, suggesting that these drugs play a role in workplace accidents.
"Evidence of increased opiate use is now appearing in the workplace as well as the ER," said Dr. Barry Sample, director of science and technology for Employer Solutions, Quest Diagnostics. "Because more U.S. workers are performing their duties while taking prescription opiates, employers, particularly those with safety-sensitive workers, should note this trend and take appropriate steps to ensure worker and public safety."
A reported 111% increase in emergency department visits for nonmedical use of opiates. The highest numbers of emergency visits were for oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone - some of the same drugs showing increased use by the U.S. workforce in Quest Diagnositics' DTI data. Possible opiate side effects include drowsiness, nausea, constipation, and depending on the drug taken, depressed respiration. They are known for their potential for addiction as well as for euphoria they can include. They effect regions of the brain that mediate what the body perceives as pleasure.
"The HHS report on on nonmedical use of opiates - and its consistency with DTI findings - is notable and of concern, but it's important to remember that prescribed pain medication plays an important role in patient care and improved health," said Jon R. Cohen, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer, Quest Diagnostics. "Because both prescribed use and misuse of opiates appear to be on the rise, employers will want to address this issue comprehensively as they work to ensure employee health and safety."