Opioid Abuse in Michigan Employers benefit in battle against prescription drug abuse

The drug that affects everyone is getting renewed interest from the State of Michigan — and more attention from employers.

Opioids are drugs often used for pain relief, like heroin and morphine, as well as drugs with brand names like OxyContin and Vicodin. A state report finds that in 2012, medical professionals wrote 107 prescriptions for opioids and other related drugs per 100 Michigan residents; Michigan has the 10th highest rate of prescribed pain relievers in the U.S.

Drug abuse results in an average of more than 300 deaths in Michigan each year, as well as addictions that manifest increased costs in the form of police, prisons, additional hospital visits and lost earnings for workers.

In April, Michigan received $16.37 million in federal funds to combat opioid abuse. It will be used on programs like prevention services and the creation of a statewide awareness campaign.

“Through this grant, we will strengthen our networks for prevention and treatment,” said Dr. Debra Pinals, medical director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), in a press release.

The state currently has the Michigan Automated Prescription System, a computer system that tracks how often patients are prescribed pain killers by their doctor. According to Jen Eisner, public information officer for the MDHHS, the recent grant emphasizes the best practices for doctors: teaching medical students how to properly prescribe opioids and how long treatments should last.

The April grant is also dedicated to making people outside of the medical field more aware of opioid abuse. Pinals said a media campaign — everything from TV commercials to school programs — will teach everyone about the dangers. There are also plans to add more statewide drop off sites, where people can turn in unused medication. Many police stations and pharmacies serve as medication drop off sites.

While the federal grant is focused on opioid abuse, employers say that is only one drug related issue they consider when hiring, one that goes together with other types of drugs like alcohol and marijuana.

“We’ve had three candidates (in a week) fail drug tests, and our company spends time and money recruiting people who ultimately disqualify themselves,” said Andrew Storm, president of Eckhart USA, a robotics manufacturer in Lansing.

Edee Hatter-Williams, CEO of Capital Area Michigan Works!, says the people seeking jobs through her office are mainly concerned with medical marijuana. Though the program was approved in 2008, the specifics of what a state medical marijuana card allows still isn’t clear. Potential employees remove themselves as candidates before they even get a chance to interview for a job.

“There’s a perception that a medical card allows (people) to smoke,” Hatter-Williams said. “When we explain there’s a drug test (for a job opening), those that may be using say, ‘I didn’t know that.’ Some say, “I’ll look for something else.’”

Hatter-Williams said the guidelines used for marijuana use — often a urine test or a check of a candidate’s hair — may be applicable for opioid drug use as well. It’s less likely to be a part of bringing new employees on board in a professional, white collar role.

“In industry, you hear about it the most,” she said. “That’s where they do talk about drug testing. Operating a multi-million-dollar piece of equipment, or driving a forklift, has different requirements than an office job. It’s not likely you’ll hear about it in insurance, or a hospital or working in a school district.”

There are two options for a business facing employees who have a drug abuse problem, whether it is opioids, marijuana or alcohol: firing those employees or placing them in a treatment program. The option the company chooses often should do with the resources the company has available and its need for those employees.

“We need more employers to realize that it’s a health issue,” said Jessica Robinson, executive director of Mid-Michigan Recovery Services, a drug treatment center based in Lansing.

Most of the people who come to Robinson’s facility are chronically addicted and often homeless and unemployed. But some do have jobs. They receive an opioid pain reliever for a severe injury, and still seek out the drug when their prescription is completed. At other times, Robinson said, family members or friends either steal or are given the drugs, feeding an addiction that has nothing to do with pain relief.

Treatment programs help victims break their addiction and learn how to use medication safely. Some patients must learn basic job skills, but others, who were in the working world before treatment, can return to work after just a few weeks or months.

Lauren Maceri, HR manager for Orchid Orthopedic Solutions in Lansing, said treatment and random drug testing are enforced in her business. But the focus is on drugs such as marijuana, alcohol and other substances that already get a lot of attention from governmental agencies.

“Prescription drug abuse has not been an issue we’ve been aware of, and it’s something we should consider more,” she said.

Pinals said employers can help state official’s battle with opioid abuse by learning more about the problem. She said the state behavioral health website, michigan.gov/bhrecovery, is regularly being updated with information on drug treatment and prevention options.

“Our focus is on opioids because (they are) so deadly,” she said. “It can affect employees, management — all spheres of the population.”

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