Excerpted from a Forbes Article by Clarissa Windham-Bradstock

As if the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t enough to deal with, drug overdoses are ramping up, and yes, this recent trend has the potential to touch all of our workplaces. The National Institutes of Health reports that opioid use disorder (OUD) and opioid addiction are now at epidemic levels in the United States, affecting 3 million Americans who have had or currently battle OUD. Concerns around illegally produced fentanyl have increased dramatically over the past few years.

I am the CEO of a lab-testing organization and have seen how valuable drug screenings can be for companies. While there are rules in place for federal employees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of private-sector employers conducting pre-employment or random substance screenings is on the decline. For many, the apparent reasoning is that they need to attract and keep employees, and drug screenings can often deter candidates.

Based on my experience, here’s how leaders can reevaluate their approach to workplace drug testing.

Taking New Challenges Into Account
According to the latest provisional data supplied by the CDC, annual drug overdose deaths have increased rather significantly from before the COVID-19 pandemic, and at the center of the problem appear to be synthetic opioids like fentanyl. According to CDC data via CNN, “Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, were involved in more than two-thirds of overdose deaths in the year ending March 2022.”

According to the CDC, deaths from illegally manufactured fentanyl are on the rise. If you are not familiar, fentanyl is categorized as either pharmaceutical or illicitly manufactured. “Both are considered synthetic opioids,” according to the CDC. Because it’s synthetic, fentanyl can come in many forms, including liquid or powder. Physicians prescribe pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl. The problem is that, according to the CDC, “most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl.”

What This Means For The Workplace
The Wall Street Journal ran a piece about three educated professionals dying from a fentanyl overdose during work hours. One was a trading executive, another a social worker and the third a lawyer. All received cocaine mixed with fentanyl and died, all were working remotely at the time and all were promising professionals.

A recent survey done by the American Addiction Centers shows 22.5% of people admit to using drugs or alcohol during work hours. Research from this same study goes on to say one in five people knows that a few of their co-workers use drugs or alcohol at work, and 16% of people say they know many co-workers who use illegal drugs or alcohol at work—and that knowledge is stressful. What you need to understand as an employer is that it’s not just employees with a substance use disorder that could be affecting your company.

While your first concern is the health and safety of your staff, keep in mind, substance use disorders (SUDs) can affect your whole operation through lost productivity and absenteeism, turnover and recruitment costs, workplace accidents, healthcare expenses, and disability and workers’ compensation.

The Time For Leadership Is Now
For business leaders, this is a pervasive issue that can be met head-on, no matter the size of your business. Steps toward a solution could be less costly than the cost of substance use disorders. If you’re rethinking your workplace drug screening policy, I suggest:

1. Reset. Meet with your leadership about how to approach reinstating or ramping up your current pre-employment and random drug screening policy and how to broach the subject to your workforce. You are faced with new challenges when it comes to drug screening a hybrid and remote workforce.

2. Make your workplace a safe space. If you have employees with substance use disorders, let them know it’s a judgment-free zone and addiction is a treatable disorder. Help them get help and ensure you have the necessary resources.

3. Have recovery options available to employees. Many are covered by health insurance if cost is a concern.

4. Provide counseling services. Employees who carry stress about co-workers who are substance users need a way to vent, too.

Reevaluating your current drug screening policy or enacting a new testing policy is about concern, care and compassion. I believe it may save a life.

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