Why the Brunt of the Workplace Opioid Epidemic Falls on HR

By Julie Henderson


The scary statistics are everywhere.

“Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.”

“In the U.S. sales of prescription opioids nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2014.”

“70% of employers state they have felt negative effects from their employees’ prescription drug use.”

71% of U.S. employers say they have been affected in some way by employee misuse of legally prescribed medications.”

“81% of employers lack a comprehensive drug-free workplace policy.”

And on it goes.

Drug use in the U.S. is at a crisis level, and the trend has seeped into companies large and small. Severe consequences are facing organizations across the country, and most of them aren’t prepared to handle it.

HR professionals will undoubtedly be tasked with leading the charge to protect their workplace from drug-abusing job candidates and current employees.

The three reasons are:

  1. HR handles employee issues. While drug use and abuse affect the workplace across all levels of position and throughout all departments, HR will most likely be the department that puts drug-abuse processes in place. Dealing with health issues, which is what drug abuse falls under, is ultimately HR’s responsibility. They must prepare to have a hand in dealing with this epidemic from policy-making to integration to follow through.
  2. HR usually crafts new employee policies. Few roles in the company are as well-versed on what is and what is not relevant, fair, and legal in the workplace as HR. Dealing with drug abuse and employees with drug problems are delicate matters. The opioid epidemic demands attention from companies or they risk paying a steep price. HR professionals will be the best choice for building new rules, gathering resources, and crafting policies that protect and empower those in the workplace to properly and effectively cope with this issue.
  3. Education and training frequently fall on HR. Changes in any employment policy need HR’s guidance and help to succeed. Companies that don’t already have a drug policy will lean on HR to roll it out and make certain every employee understands and abides by the new processes. This includes knowing their rights and being aware of resources available to them and their co-workers. While department managers can enforce the policy, HR will ultimately be held accountable to its degree of success.

What can HR do to stem the hemorrhage of productivity, money, and training time that drug use and abuse are costing their companies?

Create or re-vamp the drug-free workplace policy. Many companies have a drug policy, but most don’t include prescription drugs. HR should dig into the policy, or create one from scratch, and make certain it addresses both illegal and prescription drugs.

Educate managers extensively. When managers don’t handle drug abuse issues correctly, they compound the damage to the workplace. HR must train managers of all levels thoroughly on the company’s drug policy. Every manager should know how to detect an employee who is using drugs, what to say to him or her, and what action to take after that. Managers are key in reducing drug use and its impact on the workplace.

Outline the employee’s role in the policy. Employees need to understand the policy and their role as well. Those with a drug problem need to know where to turn for help. Other employees should know where to go to report drug abuse. The common theme HR needs to convey is that recognizing and mitigating drug abuse is every single employee’s responsibility.

Offer multiple resources. Make certain everyone in the company understands there is help available for drug addiction. Visit the OSHA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website for access to guidance and several free tools to help create and maintain a drug-free workplace.

Implement drug testing in pre- and post-employment screening. Drug screening is a valuable tool to employ to help minimize the damage drug addiction can wreak. From on-site saliva testing, to off-site urine and hair testing, there are a variety of drug screening options to identify drug abusers early in the process. HR professionals should outline how to use drug screening tools as part of the hiring process. These can also be used on current employees, either upon reasonable suspicion, as random testing, or after accidents. Whichever avenue HR takes to build the drug testing process, make certain all employees know the proper actions to take in drug abuse scenarios.

Re-visit the policy periodically. As with any process, the drug-free workplace policy should be reviewed periodically to allow for new laws and changing trends. Plan on a yearly review to make certain the policy remains relevant and effective.

HR’s ability to create and execute a drug-free workplace and thorough drug screening process go a long way toward decreasing drug abuse and its resulting damage. Successfully doing so plays a vital role in increasing productivity, minimizing accidents, decreasing theft, and improving safety and attendance. It also helps decrease turnover and saves on admin costs and worker’s compensation claims. In today’s opioid epidemic, HR holds the key to protect their companies, the safety of their workplaces, and each employee’s safety.

Julie Henderson, Director of Sales
Background Screening Division
Data Facts, Inc.