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Survey: Prescription drug abuse hits many Indiana companies

December 7, 2015

The majority of Indiana companies that responded to a survey tied to the state's growing woes with prescription medication abuse say their businesses are being affected by workplace abuse or misuse of those drugs, according to findings released Monday.

About 200 Indiana companies completed the survey, of the thousands invited to take part. The data provides "a good snapshot" of prescription drug concerns and workplace policies at Indiana's employers, said Deborah Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, an Illinois-based not-for-profit that surveyed the companies between May and August.

About 80 percent of officials at those companies reported that they've had problems with workers abusing or misusing prescription medications, including opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin.

Hersman said one of the most surprising findings is that only about half of the companies have written policies on using prescription drugs at work. That's shocking, she said, because two-thirds of the companies said they consider prescription medications a bigger problem than illegal drugs, and about one-third said they've had a worker injured or nearly injured in accidents tied to prescription drug abuse or misuse.

"If you're reporting an on-the-job injury or a close call where someone was almost hurt and you know it's because of prescription medications — and yet you don't have a policy — that's a little bit scary, because the next time somebody could be killed," Hersman said at a news conference at the Indiana Statehouse.

She said prescription medication misuse and abuse harms worker productivity and can contribute to workplace errors, heightening the risk of on-the-job accidents, particularly among employees who operate equipment or heavy machinery.

While 87 percent of the companies said they conduct worker drug testing, only about half test for synthetic opioids. Hersman said that highlights the need for more companies to test for them, which she called "the most widely and fatally abused drug that's out there."

The results come amid Indiana's growing problems with heroin and opioid abuse and addiction.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said drug poisonings largely caused by opioid painkillers have increased fivefold in Indiana since 1999. He said the survey's results show that prescription drug woes are "taking a toll on the workforce" in Indiana, a top manufacturing state.

"This widespread addiction and abuse has now permeated every facet of our society," he said.

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