Business

Iowa workplaces could track opioids through 'reasonable suspicion' trainings, policy updates

A display of expired preloaded syringes of Naloxone Hydrochloride and syringes for nasal delivery of the drug is seen at a news conference at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department Central Fire Station on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A display of expired preloaded syringes of Naloxone Hydrochloride and syringes for nasal delivery of the drug is seen at a news conference at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department Central Fire Station on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

As opioid abuse remains a pervasive national issue, Iowa companies could better protect employees by addressing the drugs’ workplace impact, according to a presentation Tuesday.

About 65 people, including representatives from local employers and human resources professionals, gathered at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids to learn about opioid training opportunities and potential updates to drug policies.

The event was the second in a two-part series on drug use and workplace safety, co-hosted by Iowa Workforce Development and the Eastern Iowa Human Resources Association, following a July presentation on challenges state companies could face arising from medical and recreational marijuana.

Presenting at the Tuesday event, Curt Wheeler, business service representative with Iowa Workforce Development, discussed a series of “red flags” for opioid or substance abuse supervisors and employees could be taught to identify following “reasonable suspicion” training.

Wheeler noted that some “red flags” are contradictory — for example, slow movement compared to erratic, violent actions — while others, such as drooping eyelids or mint-smelling breath, often do not indicate drug use by themselves.

“Maybe it’s, ‘I didn’t get enough sleep the night before,’ maybe it’s a bad reaction to a legitimate medication, but with all this, it’s still a safety issue,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you don’t address it, it just might not be addressed under your drug use policy.”

These policies, Wheeler said, also ought to be kept up to date, particularly regarding situations that require a drug test and to differentiate between legally prescribed medications and illegal drugs.

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A 2017 National Safety Council survey found that 24 percent of the 501 responding companies provided workplace training about prescription drugs, and just 13 percent were “very confident” that employees could identify drug abuse.

Eighty-one percent of the companies were found to have incomplete drug policies, with missing provisions that include taking prescriptions at work and return to work policies for employees undergoing substance abuse treatment.

Seven out of 10 responding companies have experienced some effect of prescription drug usage, including absenteeism and overdoses, the survey found.

“We like to think of Iowa as not that kind of place,” Wheeler said. “But in all reality ... there is no company, no school, no community that is immune.”

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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