A Hidden Workplace Epidemic


Itasca, IL – More than 70% of U.S. employers are feeling the direct impact of prescription drug misuse in their workplaces, according to a survey released by the National Safety Council. The survey, the first of its kind in the nation, also found that although 71% of employers agree that prescription drug misuse is a disease that requires treatment, 65% feel it is a justifiable reason to fire an employee.

“Employers must understand that the most dangerously misused drug today may be sitting in employees’ medicine cabinets,” said NSC President and CEO Deborah A.P. Hersman. “Even when they are taken as prescribed, prescription drugs and opioids can impair workers and create hazards on the job. We hope these findings prompt employers to take the lead on this emerging issue so that workplaces can be as safe as possible.”

Drug poisonings, largely from opioid painkillers, now eclipse car crashes as the leading cause of preventable death among adults. Nearly half of Americans are personally impacted by prescription drug addiction, with 44% knowing someone who is addicted to a prescription pain reliever. Seventy-five percent of those struggling with a substance use disorder are in the workforce, revealing a hidden epidemic that many employers are struggling to address.

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • Only 19% of employers feel “extremely prepared” to deal with prescription drug misuse in the workplace;
  • Although just 13% are “very confident” that employees can spot the signs of misuse, 76% do not offer training to help close that knowledge gap;
  • 81% of respondents’ policies are lacking at least one critical element of an effective drug-free workplace program;
  • Just 57% are drug testing all employees; of those employers who conduct drug testing, 41% are not testing for synthetic opioids;
  • 88% are interested in their insurer covering alternatives to pain relief treatment so that employees can avoid taking opioids, nearly 60% believe the insurance company will be responsive, but 30% of those employers will not act on that interest; and
  • Encouragingly, 70% would like to help employees struggling with prescription drug misuse return to their positions after completing treatment.

The Council provides a free Prescription Drug Employer Kit to help employers establish policies and manage opioid use at work.

For resources and information about prescription drug abuse both in the workplace and at home, visit nsc.org/rxpainkillers.