Drugs and workplaces don’t mix. That’s common sense, but now employers have more reasons to take a hard line against employee drug use.
The workplace impact of Ohio’s opioid epidemic is starting to be quantified, and the looming availability of legalized marijuana use for medical purposes is forcing Ohio employers’ hands on whether they will tolerate employees’ medical use of the drug regardless of its change in legal status.
Getting a handle on just how many employees are impaired by opioid addictions has been elusive. Now a new report examining opioid use in the construction industry has called out Ohio as far worse than six neighboring Midwest states studied. Of 1,000 construction workers dying of opioid overdoses in 2015, 380 were in Ohio — more than twice the totals in Illinois and Michigan, the next highest states.
The Midwest Economic Policy Institute report claims 15 percent of construction workers have substance-abuse problems, compared with a rate of 8.6 percent nationally for all workers. And in Ohio, construction workers in 2016 were more than seven times as likely to die of an opioid overdose as other workers. Lost production and related costs of the opioid-overdose epidemic just in the Midwest construction industry exceed $5 billion a year, the study says, with $2 billion of that in Ohio alone.
This news is sobering enough, but high demand for construction workers could exacerbate the problem of drug use as employers are tempted to relax drug testing in order to fill vacancies and injured workers try to return to job sites before they are ready, toughing out their pain with opioids and other drugs.
Now enters medical marijuana. The voter-approved new state law is slated to take effect in September, identifying 21 conditions for which physicians can recommend treatment with some form of marijuana, other than smoking it. But the law does not disturb employers’ right to prohibit their employees from using the drug no matter what their doctors might say.
Low unemployment across the board means many employers, not just those in the construction trades, are struggling to hire enough workers and are frustrated that failed drug tests make their task even more challenging. The advent of medical marijuana in Ohio is not going to help their situations.
One thing that could help is an online resource the Ohio Chamber of Commerce is developing to help employers deal with issues of drug use and dependency, either among their employees or within employees’ families.
Another effort to try to stem reliance on and then addiction to opioids comes from the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, which holds sway over how injured workers are treated for their injuries. It changed its approach to how workers address back pain last year to encourage physical therapy and chiropractic care as first options to try to avoid potential harm from pain-killing drugs.
In coming months, Ohio employers of all sizes and sorts have more reason than ever to revisit their drug policies and set clear expectations for employees. The pain of losing an employee or a job to addiction is best treated up front.
— Columbus Dispatch