Addressing Prescription Drugs in the Workplace

Even taken as prescribed, prescription medications limit safe usage of motor vehicles and can cause dangerous impairment. Employees using prescription drugs for various reasons — to get high or to self-treat a medical condition —often take larger doses than prescribed by their physician or take someone else’s prescription.

When this happens, it is called “non-medical prescription” drug use. When this happens, they put other co-workers at risk as well as innocent drivers on the road.

The National Safety Council has outlined six steps to a drug-free workplace program to address prescription drugs:

Step 1: Define the employee’s role in making the workplace safe – A Drug Free Workplace Program should state what employees must do if they are prescribed medications that carry a warning label or may cause impairment.

Step 2: Adding prescription drug testing to traditional illicit drug testing – Tests are available to detect legally prescribed and commonly abused medications. The employer, working with a legal resource, should decide if additional testing is warranted. If tests for prescription drugs will be added, they must meet federal, state and local requirements.

Step 3: Incorporate language that addresses non-medical prescription drug use – Each employer must develop its own procedures regarding how suspected non-medical prescription drug use will be identified, evaluated and treated, the conditions for continued employment, work and leave options and what medical certifications are required. Ensure the policy is clear.

Step 4: Obtain legal advice – It is advisable for an attorney experienced in this area to review the policy before it is finalized.

Step 5: Train supervisory staff and educate employees – Conduct formal training to educate supervisors on the signs of non-medical prescription drug use and the procedures to follow to help an employee who is suspected of having a problem.

Step 6: Review service coverage for behavioral health and/or Employee Assistance Program (EAP) needs – Review your contracts to ensure employees are covered for issues related to non-medical prescription drug use.

Download and share: A more in-depth look at the six-step program.

— Lisa Robinson is a senior program manager with the National Safety Council