By Nina M. French
This information is provided for educational purposes only.  Reader retains full responsibility for the use of the information contained herein.

As a year-round gym attendee, January brings with it a reminder of New Year’s resolutions – but perhaps not in the way one might think. When I head to the gym the first week of January, ready to work out with a vengeance and shed the holiday cookies and egg nog, nothing annoys me more than opening the fitness center door finding the “resolutionaries” working out on MY favorite machines. I know that I should be a better person and be happy for their new-found resolve but, in truth, I know 98% will be gone in a few weeks and for the moment, they are disrupting my routine. The vigor with which they embrace exercise in January fades almost as soon as the holiday lights come down for the year.

Much the same way, I don’t believe employers should experience “drug-testing emergencies” in administering their programs. A substance abuse program is a living, breathing process and requires care and maintenance throughout the year, not just an urgent push at year end. Of course, any serious post-accident or reasonable suspicion situation often requires urgency but none of that urgency should stem from concerns about your company’s processes, procedures and policies. Yet, time and time again, employers find themselves urgently scrambling after an emergency. Most often it is after a challenge has arisen and it is too late.

How do you stave off these unwanted emergencies? Proper prior planning! And what better time to plan but the start of a new year. So while you are jogging that extra mile, make a resolution to get your program in shape and keep it in shape for 2018.

Policy Updates

Policy, policy, policy – I cannot stress this more. 2017 saw changes to recreational marijuana laws, critical court cases, OSHA, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Transportation (DOT). Random rates have changed, panels have been added to, and employer’s rights to test have altered. I cannot remember a time in this industry when I could say with such confidence, “if your policy is over a year old, it is most certainly no longer fully compliant.” While we are talking policy, it is important to remember that the majority of states require specific policy considerations, so a template or sample policy is rarely an option except for very small, single state employers. You need a custom policy created by a professional, customized to meet the needs of your workplace and culture.

The Opioid Crisis

It really is an epidemic – the opioid epidemic has forced the government and the medical community to question many policies and practices. Who prescribes opioids, how often to prescribe, what is the balance between medical usefulness and personal harm, and when does use become abuse? The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is so concerned about opioid abuse it has proposed making fentanyl a Schedule I drug. Still, most employers do not address highly abused prescription opioids in their policies and drug testing panel. The DOT & HHS updated their drug test panels to include several semi-synthetic opioids including hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone and 20 states have laws that follow that panel. Modification of your drug testing panel, where required, is a must. Consider modifying it to be

your standard panel across all employees and in all locations. That alone, however, is often not enough. If an employee is using or abusing a prescription drug, as an employer it is critical to evaluate how prescription drug use on the job can affect your workplace. Are your employees handling sensitive financial information? Providing healthcare services? Performing physically challenging work? Have significant access to your critical systems? Defining what positions are safety sensitive and creating prescription disclosure programs is something all HR departments should consider for 2018.

Employee Assistance Programs

On that topic, what other services are you providing related to drug abuse? In today’s tight employment market, good employees are an asset that need to be not only invested in, but also protected. Do you have an Employee Assistance Program that has specialized training and protocols for substance abuse? Remember, situations in which employees are dealing with substance abuse, either by themselves or with a loved one, can be emotionally and financially draining. Providing support services may lower absenteeism, increase productivity and help you retain an otherwise excellent employee.

Marijuana in the Workplace

Legalized marijuana brings with it significant challenges for hiring and post-employment drug testing. State laws continue to be passed and implemented, and each is unique. All contradict the federal law which still list marijuana as a Schedule I drug in the United States. Regardless of your personal feelings about legalization, the experts have weighed in and recognize that the litigation expenses alone may make legalized marijuana in the workplace one of the most expensive issues that US employers will have to face over the next 20 years. While there is no policy that can completely protect any employer from the costs to defend lawsuits challenging the contradictions in state marijuana laws, an updated policy based on current law provides employers with the strongest defense.

Emerging Technology

The impact of technology in substance abuse testing cannot be ignored. While certainly not as entertaining as YouTube videos or the latest gaming app, any resolution would be incomplete without a review of drug testing technology. Electronic chain of custody forms are now accepted in DOT and non-DOT programs. While some still cling to the idea that a paper form is faster than entering the required donor information into an electronic system, the benefits are many. Visibility from collection to reporting, donor self-scheduling, setting expiration dates, remote hiring, immediate access for Medical Review Officer (MRO) review…. the list of benefits is long. Technology has aided in identifying clinics for multiple testing needs and ordering them online. Additionally, there are testing methods that many employers have yet to explore including oral fluid testing and instrumented read rapid-result tests. Employers should work with their providers to determine which technologies meet their needs and are allowed in the states in which they do business. Performing this technology review while updating policy kills two birds with one stone!

Updating Your Program in the New Year

Like any resolution, updating your substance abuse program runs the risk of being set aside when more pressing issues arise. But, just as we know packing salad and gym clothes is often more difficult than grabbing a burger and fries, so, too, we know that it is better for us in the long run. A healthy lifestyle keeps us healthy and protected just as a strong substance abuse policy keeps our workplace protected, safe, and healthy.

(C) 2010-2018 The Current Consulting Group, LLC – No portion of this article may be reproduced, retransmitted, posted on a website or used in any manner without the written consent of the Current Consulting Group, LLC. When permission is granted to reproduce this article in any way full attribution to the author and copyright holder are required.

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