The hidden threat lurking in your facility

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

As a provider you have plenty of issues to deal with concerning the people you employ. There's the ongoing struggle to recruit and retain top talent, the battle to raise the minimum wage for direct care workers, and the unique challenges surrounding hiring millennials.

I don't mean to make your lives more difficult by adding another onto that pile, but according to a recent survey from the National Safety Council, there's a problem plaguing American workplaces that needs addressing: prescription drug abuse.

Granted, there's been a lot of attention paid lately to prescription drug abuse, especially opioids. While we've largely covered the issue from the angle of how it can affect residents and the healthcare industry, the NSC's first-of-its-kind survey shows it has officially become a problem — and a “hidden workplace epidemic” — for employers.

The survey interviewed just over 500 human resources workers to find out how prescription drug abuse had impacted their workplaces, and how they were addressing it. The results? More than 70% of the HR managers surveyed reported that they've felt the impact of opioid abuse in their workplaces.

Just over 70% of the survey respondents said they consider prescription drug addiction to be a disease, while 65% said they saw opioid abuse as a “justifiable” reason to fire an employee.

Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the NSC, told reporters at a press briefing that the results were “disheartening.”

“Since more than 75% of those who struggle with substance abuse disorders are actually in the American workforce, this issue has created a potential safety hazard for employers,” Hersman said.

The survey also found 40% of respondents had seen employees taking prescription pain medications at work. The same percentage reported seeing absenteeism they believed to be due to drug misuse. In total, 10% of the respondents also had seen an arrest or an overdose due to a prescription opioid in the workplace.

While the survey didn't break down the exact results by industry, its methodology showed that 9% of the respondents worked for a healthcare or social assistance company. But for proof that the issue is seeping into the long-term care setting, look no further than the growing number of news stories about LTC employees landing in hot water over drug theft.

The issue gets even more complicated for long-term care providers, considering the prescriptions in question aren't just “sitting in employee's' medicine cabinets” as Hersman mentioned — they're a necessary part of the workplace itself.

So what can providers do? The first step, as NSC suggests, is recognizing the problem and the impact prescription drugs can have on the workplace. From there, employers are encouraged to put “strong” policies in place, expand drug testing panels to include opioids, and train staff to spot signs of drug misuse.

"For some workers, employer engagement may be the difference between life and death,” Hersman said.

All the more reason to keep this growing issue on your radar.

Emily Mongan is Staff Writer at McKnight's. Follow her @emmongan.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.