Opioid testing a growing trend for nation's employers
The ongoing prescription painkiller epidemic has resulted in increased opioid testing by employers nationwide. This trend continues in 2018 with a new U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) rule that requires companies regulated by the department to conduct opioid screenings on their workers.
Effective as of January 1, the DOT rule applies to safety-sensitive positions including aviation workers, commercial motor vehicle drivers, railroad employees, transit hires, and certain pipeline employees. Testing for opioids also limits liabilities for positions not covered by DOT regulations, said Laura Shelton, executive director of the Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association in Washington, D.C. Construction, warehouse work and other areas where drug abuse may result in injury should be considered for screening as well, she said.
Employers in industries not covered by DOT rules are allowed to test for opioids if they follow state drug testing laws. A medical officer should review positive test results to ensure companies are informed of the types of prescription drugs that are illegal without a valid prescription, while workplaces themselves must clarify the various non-prescription drugs - including specific opioids - that are prohibited in the workplace.
Employers are in compliance with federal law as long as a medical review officer is involved. Should the officer determine that a drug is being used legally, he or she may excuse the "lawful positive result." In addition, the employee should be granted up to five days to allow a medical officer to verify the prescription with a prescribing physician.
"By testing for illegal opioid use within the workplace, employers are protecting their employees and their companies while also providing a means to identify employees that can benefit from assistance through the organization's employee assistance program," said Shelton.
While most organizations refer workers who test positive for opioid use to an assistance program, other companies will immediately terminate a hire upon a positive drug test. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against workers who legally take opioids and other prescribed medications.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, synthetics like fentanyl, and legally obtained prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and codeine. Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time, but their euphoric effects can lead to dependence and misuse.
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