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Industry News: Addressing Fentanyl Abuse in the Workplace

Published on: October 2, 2016

Written by: Confirm BioSciences.

Drug use in the workplace is a troublesome situation to deal with for any company. Aside from impairing a worker’s productivity and decision-making abilities, drugs in the workplace could also cause a plethora of issues such as low employee morale, injuries, employee compensation costs, and legal liabilities, to name a few. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, 68.9 percent of drug users are employed and active in the workplace.

In 2010, more than 38,000 people died from drug overdose. More than 16,000 of these cases were linked to prescription opioids either alone or in combination with other prescription medication. The painkiller epidemic is considered a unique challenge for employers since these are legal drugs that can be prescribed by a licensed practitioner. More often than not, these opioids are taken to treat pain. At times, the pain can be work-related.

Everything You Need to Know About Fentanyl

What is Fentanyl?

Among these drugs is fentanyl, a synthetic opiate analgesic that is similar to morphine.  Considered as “the new OxyContin,” it is commonly used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery. Aside from that, it is a Schedule II drug that is also used to treat people with chronic pain. It is commonly prescribed by a physician, and so cases of overdosing on fentanyl were rare. However, it was discovered that non-pharmaceutical fentanyl was being produced in underground laboratories. This non-pharmaceutical fentanyl is sold in different forms such as powder, spiked on blotting powder, pills, or even as a heroin substitute.

Learn More About Fentanyl Drug Facts

Fentanyl, the Brain and the Dangers

Fentanyl works like heroin, morphine and other opioid drugs. It adheres to the receptors of the brain, also known as opioid receptors, which control pain and emotions. Its effects on these receptors are similar to those of heroin wherein the dopamine levels are increased to producing a state of euphoria or relaxation. Opioid receptors also control breathing rate. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and so high doses of fentanyl or any other opioids could cause breathing to stop. Fentanyl’s potency can run the risk of an overdose especially if mixed with other drugs such as heroin or cocaine, which can amplify its potency and danger to an individual.

Fentanyl Testing in the Workplace

Since the removal of OxyContin from the Canadian pharmaceutical market, fentanyl reached a high in 2012. As an analgesic, fentanyl can be prescribed to manage moderate to severe pain and is often used when other pain medications do not work. Due to this, prescriptions for fentanyl have heightened over the past 15 years. Despite the growing concern of fentanyl abuse in the workplace, testing for fentanyl is only done under special circumstances since it is not part of the standard panel of drug testing.

In order to test for use or misuse of fentanyl, employers have to include fentanyl testing as an add-on at an extra cost. Due to the fact that stand alone testing for fentanyl is not available, in order to get an initial result, pharmacological testing must be done. It was proposed to expand the standard panel of drug testing in the work place to include drugs of concern. Although synthetic opioids are close to being added to the standard panels, fentanyl is not.

However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is the government branch that establishes the scientific and generic guidelines for workplace drug testing in the United States, released a public document stating that department visits involving opiates or opioids have increased by 183 percent with  fentanyl and morphine having a 100 percent increase. Despite this, fentanyl is nowhere near consideration for being placed on the standard workplace testing programs. Experts believe that company policies should look into having additional drugs added onto the standard panels per the advice of a Substance Abuse Professional.

Fentanyl Detection and Treatment

Much like heroin, fentanyl can produce feelings of euphoria, relaxation and reduce feelings of pain. Those who seek such effects will abuse fentanyl by either combining it with other drugs or taking it without a prescription. Some symptoms of fentanyl overdose include fatigue, dizziness, difficulty in swallowing, difficulty in breathing, and altered levels of consciousness, to name a few.

Related Reading – Fentanyl Abuse: Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

In terms of treatment for fentanyl dependency, one can either go through detox, therapy or ongoing rehabilitation. Halting the taking of fentanyl could result in symptoms of withdrawal such as tremors, chills, appetite loss, sweating, and nausea.

Residential rehabilitators offer detox programs to minimize the extreme comfort that comes with quitting cold turkey. Such programs require the individual to work with an addiction specialist in order to manage the withdrawal symptoms. The individual will go through a structured period of detoxification, working closely with his or her addiction specialist. After a period of detoxification, the individual then goes through active therapy wherein they will be guided in discovering the root cause of their addiction.

Rehabilitation may also include skills training, family therapy, and other healing components like yoga. This is considered as an essential element of recovery. Take note that before adhering to any form of rehabilitation, be sure to check with the facility to deduce that what they have to offer is aligned to your wants and needs. Another component in treatment is aftercare. In aftercare, the individual continues to build on the successes achieved in the formal treatment setting through support systems. Activities such as support groups can help prevent a relapse and ongoing support from family and friends can prolong the road to recovery.

Fentanyl Patch and Routes of Administration

Dealing With Employees on Fentanyl

The work place can be an important and effective environment to address drug issues. This can be done through establishing and promoting programs of health improvement and drug education. Many people go through a plethora of difficulties associated with alcoholic or drug issues, and, more often than not, these issues tend to find its way into the workplace. One of the most effective ways in dealing with employees who are going through drug abuse is through an Employee Assistance Program (EAPs).

EAPs utilize short-term counseling, assessment and other personal problems concerning an employee’s drug problem, mental and emotional health, financial problem, and family trouble. The EAP is confidential and is usually staffed by professional counselors can either be done in-house, with an agency personnel, or with other EAP agencies. As well as establishing an EAP, employers could also address drug and alcohol abuse in the work place by establishing a drug and alcohol-free environment.

This includes creating policies concerning rules and regulations when it comes to drugs and other substances, health benefits that cover substance use disorders like counseling or aftercare, and reducing the social stigma of substance abuse in the workplace through education. Research has shown that companies with a successful and effective EAP have improved in terms of employee morale and productivity. In addition to that, there is also a reported decrease in accidents, absenteeism, theft, and turnover. Also, employers with long-standing health programs boast of better health status among employees. If you feel an employee is going through fentanyl abuse, tell a supervisor as soon as possible. It may be a manager, a staff member from the Employee Assistance Program, or a human resources officer. Depending on how comfortable you are on disseminating the information, it can be done privately or outside of work.

Do not feel as if you are risking your job or your co-worker’s job if and when you confide in someone of a drug abuse problem in the work place. When an employee keeps his or her suspicions to himself or herself, they run the risk of facing the problem alone without realizing that they already have a problem. This can lead to accidents or any other self-inflicted activity. Telling someone of a drug abuse problem in the workplace is the first step to addressing a problem that may have already been rampant with no prior knowledge. Aside from that, in the case of the employee with the problem, it is the first step towards treatment.

Creating an Effective Program

In order to have a successful EAP, it is crucial to prepare a detailed and informative checklist before establishing your program. Ideally, a quality EAP program should be accessible to those who have a problem and to those who feel they may be developing a problem. There must be a clear enforcing of the policy and it should be an outlet for those seeking help. These programs should be placed in the hands of supervising staff members, preferably professionals specializing in counselling and other health services.

Ensure that the people in charge are knowledgeable of the drug code that is to be enforced and are comfortable with disseminating the information to other staff members. Other educational programs that could be beneficial to employees include drug awareness day, written material about substance abuse and videos about drug abuse in the workplace. Consider these programs as outlets of information to allow people to come to terms with their drug problem as well as let them know that the program is open to those seeking help whether immediately or in the near future.


It is easy to deduce up front that the existence of fentanyl in the workplace has opened different paths to solving drug abuse in the workplace. Though drugs work differently for different people, the effects can alter their productivity in the work place and ultimately hurt any future endeavors. Aside from that, employees who feel that drug usage is a reliable coping mechanism for work-related discomfort should assessed and given assistance. Keep in mind that the use of drugs, whether it be fentanyl, morphine, prescription drugs, is an action that should be of great concern to all employers.

Note that the productivity and welfare of the company and the employees rests solely on the shoulders of those in charge. It is an ongoing epidemic that affects the employee, the employer and the individuals surrounding both parties. To provide health services for your employees is to provide them with an atmosphere that is caring for their well-being whilst maintaining a standard of quality in your company. Hindered employees result in hindered productivity which can lead to devastating consequences for both parties. Protecting employees also means protecting your company and ensuring that they are of a healthy and sound mind ensures the future of the company and its employees.