US agencies tackle employees’ opioid use

By on 03/12/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Last year, there were more than 70,000 recorded drug overdose deaths in the US, 68% of which involved prescription or illegally-obtained opioids. (Image courtesy: K-State Research/flickr).

Several US government agencies are implementing new policies that would enable them to keep tabs on their employees’ opioid use, even in cases where the painkillers are prescribed legally.

Government Executive reported that while random drug testing is common at some agencies, staff at laboratories that handle drug tests are not required to report positive test results to agencies if workers can document a prescription or other valid medical explanation. However, according to a report by the Department of Home Security (DHS) inspector general, this is beginning to change.   

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will start requiring labs to notify it even when a positive result stems from a legal prescription, and the Secret Service is looking to move in a similar direction by early next year, in line with recommendations set out in the DHS report. Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is requiring employees with legal opioid prescriptions to take a “fitness for duty” test, Government Executive reported.

“[Agencies] have also implemented or are in the process of implementing measures to evaluate the fitness for duty of employees using prescription opioids,” the report said. “These policies establish consistent standards [agencies] can use to ensure they are allowing employees to use legally prescribed opioids, while also ensuring their workforce is capable of effectively performing their duties.”

The report notes that employees at Customs and Border Protection, ICE, TSA and the Secret Service are rarely caught using opioids illegally. Between 2015 and 2018, there were only 31 positive results for illegal opioid use in more than 100,000 random drug tests. The report found that all those who tested positive were appropriately disciplined.

Protecting workers from substance abuse

In September, the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWPC) announced that new opioid controls – including imposing a seven-day limit on initial opioid prescriptions and limiting the number of subsequent prescriptions – would be implemented to protect injured federal workers.  

“These new controls are a part of the department’s ongoing efforts to reduce the potential for opioid misuse and addiction among injured federal workers,” it said.  

The tightening of rules around federal employees’ opioid use comes in response to the US opioid crisis, which has worsened considerably in recent years. In 2018 the country recorded more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths, 68% of which involved prescription or illegally-obtained opioids.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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