Ever since drug testing became a tool that employers used to screen their new hires, we have seen new trends in drug use. 30 years ago hallucinogens likes LSD and PCP were popular amongst illicit drug users. 10-15 years ago Ecstasy was the new drug that was being abused at clubs and parties amongst teenagers and adults in their early 20s.
Today the war on drugs has shifted to prescription drug abuse. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and The White House "nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically." 1 In fact prescription drug abuse is the second most abused category of drugs behind marijuana.2
The biggest obstacle with prescription drug abuse is that all of the medication is legal - legal in the sense that it can be dispersed by a physician via prescription. The public perception is that the abuse of prescription drugs is mostly harmless in comparison to the more popular illicit drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamines - concern from family and friends is just not on the same level as the more well known substances.
Abuse today is as a result of poor database tracking for patients. Prescription drugs abusers are "doctor shopping" - they are visiting multiple physicians and being prescribed the same drug and stockpiling more than they need for any particular medical condition.
Today when it comes to prescription drugs, the biggest concern from employers is regarding oxycodones and oxymorphones - known to some as synthetic opiates. Oxycodone is a type of synthetic opiate that more popularly known through various brand names such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet (See our post on What is Oxycodone?). Oxymorphone, also a synthetic opiate, is more commonly known as Opana, Numorphan.
Because oxycodone and oxymorphone are opiates, most HR and Safety managers are under the impression that a standard drug test that includes opiates will test for oxycodone and other synthetic opiates. Unfortunately, this is wrong!
The standard 5-panel, 8-panel, and 10-panel test that includes opiates, only tests for morphine and codeine. In order to test for these panels you must request your MRO or laboratory to add these tests to your account. More importantly though, in order to test for these drugs you should consult with your legal department about writing it into your employee drug testing policy.
The good news is that adding these tests is fairly easy on the laboratory side. There are more and more standard panels that you can order from your laboratory that include synthetic opiates. The cost increase is also very minor.