Global Point of Care

Workplace Policies for Prescription Drugs

Workplace Policies for Prescription Drugs

The Nature of the Problem

Americans are in pain and a growing number are not hesitant about taking medications to cope with that pain. During the past fifty years, the use of prescription drugs to treat medical and mental disorders has risen substantially in the United States.

From 1960 to 2005, consumer expenditures on prescription drugs rose from $2.7 billion to $200.7 billion.1 Total spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. rose 12.2% to nearly $425 billion in 2015.2 The nonmedical use of prescription psychotherapeutic drugs – and of pain relievers in particular – is now second only to marijuana use among the nation’s most prevalent drugs of choice.

Develop a Well-Written and Clear Policy

Employers should include a Prescription Medication Disclosure provision in their workplace policy, especially in safety-sensitive workplaces. Prescription drug disclosure should be limited to those medications with impairing effects. Take the following case for example. Dura Automotive Systems implemented a new drug testing policy prohibiting employees from “being impaired by or under the influence” of alcohol, illegal drugs, or legal drugs—including prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs—to the extent that employees’ use of such drugs endangered others or affected their job performance.

Although no drug free workplace can guarantee that there will be no drug use or abuse, the investment in a robust deterrence and detection program is an excellent investment for risk-averse employers.

To implement this policy, Dura instructed its third-party drug testing facility to test for an expanded panel — including some substances that appear in prescription medications. If an employee tested positive for any of these substances, Dura was notified and the employee was sent home. Following that, a Medical Review Officer (MRO) questioned the employees and changed results to “negative” if the employee had a valid prescription that explained the positive result, forwarding the change of status to Dura. Dura then instructed these employees to bring their medications to a supervisor at the company. If the label of the medication was packaged with warnings against operating machinery, the employee was then instructed that they must discontinue use of the medication or be terminated. The employees were not questioned about their medical conditions.

Dura refrained from asking any questions about the employees’ medical conditions. The drug tests revealed only the prohibited chemicals and not the medications themselves, and it limited its inquiries into medications to those with machine operation warnings. Dura appeared to go to lengths to prevent knowledge or consideration of the medical conditions of its employees, and instead focused its policy on the effects of certain chemicals on employees’ work.

Implementing a Program

Although no drug free workplace can truly guarantee that there will be no drug use or abuse, the investment in a robust deterrence and detection program is an excellent investment for risk adverse employers. Implementing a Prescription Drug Disclosure program, considering the size of today’s prescription drug abuse epidemic, helps employers protect themselves from liability while promoting a safe workplace. Safety not only protects your employees and customers, it protects your bottom line.

  1. The California State Task Force on Prescription Drug Misuse Summary Report and Recommendations on Prescription Drugs: Misuse, Abuse and Dependency.
  2. U.S. Drug Spending Climbs.