American Workplace Needs Online Drug Class

by Mike Miller November 13, 2011

How bad is drug problem in the American workplace? How many American workers are high on the job? How many are selling illegal drugs while at work?

The arrest of more than three dozen people on drug charges at a Boeing military aircraft plant highlights the growing problem of prescription drug abuse by U.S. workers.

You probably have read about the 37 people, all but one of them current or former Boeing employees, charged with selling or trying to buy painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs at the company's suburban Philadelphia plant.

The federal drug raid on the plant that makes key U.S. military aircraft followed four years of stealth operations as agents infiltrated the factory and found workers to cooperate in undercover deals.

But outside such investigations, detecting prescription drug abuse among U.S. employees is generally harder than it is for other kinds of illicit drug use, such as marijuana or cocaine. Many employer drug tests now in use would not catch workers abusing painkillers or some other prescription medications.

The Statistics

Only 12 percent of the 4.5 million drug tests conducted last year tested for Oxycontin, a powerful painkiller, according to Quest Diagnostics, the biggest U.S. drug tester for employers. Oxycontin was one of the four types of prescription drugs found at the Boeing factory.

Also, three-quarters of all drug tests happen before someone is hired, Quest said, making it difficult to detect workers who get addicted to drugs on the job.

Even with the gaps in testing, evidence shows that prescription drug abuse on the job is on the rise. Forty percent more American workers tested positive for prescription opiates, or painkillers, in 2009, than in 2005, said Quest.

Those drugs were also linked to more workplace accidents.


While prescription drug abuse usually makes headlines when tied to celebrities, experts say it is not surprising the problem has spread beyond Hollywood.

Some 2.7 percent of Americans reported using prescription drugs for non-medical reasons in 2010, according to a yearly survey released earlier this month by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA.

The numbers treated for prescription painkiller abuse rose 400 percent over the past decade, according to 2010 figures.

Such statistics prompted President Barack Obama's administration in April to launch a fight against what it called a prescription drug abuse epidemic. No study has looked at which industries have the highest incidence of prescription drug abuse.

The time has come for the government to strictly regulate prescription medications. It should not be this easy for people to abuse the system and obtain these drugs so easily.

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