The numbers around the opioid epidemic are startling. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled since 1999. The use and abuse of opioids is rapidly escalating — so much so, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services declared it a public health emergency in October.

This epidemic can present a unique challenge to employers. While many prescription opioids can have a beneficial effect for patients with significant pain when taken as prescribed, there can be inherent risks and dangers when they are taken improperly, including accidents leading to injury and potential overdose deaths.

As a result of the increasing prevalence, employers are being challenged to address the misuse of opioids at work. They need a better understanding of the definition of impairment since the signs of abuse are subtle. Plus, employers should revisit the administration of workplace drug testing, as the average drug test focuses on illegal substances, not prescription misuse. Because of this, it is pertinent for employers to be well-versed and proactive in addressing opioid abuse in the workplace.

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