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January 29, 2016
Tips to prevent prescription drug abuse on the job

More Americans than ever—some 50 million—report suffering from chronic pain and may be taking prescription pain medications. Some of these meds have potentially dangerous side effects. Moreover, more people are becoming addicted and may continue using the drugs even after they’re no longer medically necessary. These realities can have a profound effect on safety in the workplace.

Bad medicine?

Properly used, prescription medications can help workers recover from illnesses, manage chronic pain, and lead productive lives. However, the misuse and abuse of drugs in the workplace, including legal medications, drive up both employer costs and accident rates. Employers must be aware of and actively work to identify “bad medicine” in the workplace.

Pain medications aren’t the only prescription medications that can be highly addictive and cause workplace safety problems. According to the National Institute on Drugs (NID) Prescription Drugs Abuse report (available at, the most commonly abused prescription drugs are:

  • Opioids, used mostly to manage pain;
  • Central nervous system depressants, used for anxiety and sleep disorders; and
  • Stimulants, used for some sleep disorders and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Preventing addiction

The NID report offers advice for workers on preventing addiction. It recommends that patients take these precautions:

  • Tell your healthcare provider all the prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, and dietary and herbal supplements you are taking.
  • Give your healthcare provider a full description of your condition before you obtain any other medications.
  • Follow the prescribed directions.
  • Know the potential interactions with other drugs.
  • Don’t stop or change a dosing regimen without first discussing it with your healthcare provider.
  • Don’t use another person’s prescription.

Signs of addiction

The U.S. Department of Labor has identified some common signals that a worker may be addicted to drugs or alcohol, including legal medications. Workers with addiction problems may demonstrate:

  • Inconsistent work quality
  • Poor concentration
  • Reduced productivity
  • Increased absenteeism and tardiness
  • Unexplained disappearances from the jobsite
  • Carelessness and mistakes
  • Errors in judgment
  • Risk-taking actions
  • Disregard for safety
  • Extended lunch periods and early departures

Help your workers stay healthy and safe by knowing about the possible dangers of improperly using prescription and over-the-counter medications.

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