Often when people think of drugs and alcohol, they think of illegal drugs such as ice or cocaine but not so much about everyday medications like Panadeine Forte or cold and flu tablets. While there’s no doubt illicit drugs pose safety risks, in many ways the pervasiveness of prescription and over the counter medications makes them an even bigger safety issue. This is especially true for the workplace, where many legal drugs can impact a person’s ability to drive, operate machinery or make decisions.
Late last year we commenced random testing for a new client. On our first day of testing at their central depot, we received a call from the WHS coordinator. She was with a highly distressed staff member who was worried that the various medications he was taking would lead to a positive drug test.
This is not an uncommon question. But, it is not always easily answered.
Luckily, our in-house pharmacologist has a unique expertise in how medicines work in the body, the potential for impairment in the workplace, as well as the drug and alcohol testing and laboratory processes. The first thing she did was work out which (if any) of the medications this worker was taking, could potentially lead to a non-negative result. Fortunately in this instance (it isn’t always the case!), the worker knew the correct names of the 4 medications he was taking. Our pharmacologist identified the drugs each of those medicines contained, and knowing the drug classes that are routinely tested in workplace drug testing, she was able to ascertain that only 2 of the 4 medications could potentially trigger a non-negative drug result.
During the course of the discussion, it was also established that the worker had valid prescriptions for the medications in question. This was helpful because according to this company’s drug and alcohol policy, a valid prescription was required in the event of a confirmed positive drug test. So in this case, even if he returned a non-negative drug test onsite that was subsequently confirmed in the laboratory, having the valid prescriptions meant he would be able to comply with his company’s policy. That fact alone calmed him considerably.
Of course the real issue here is not the passing or failing of a drug test, but how to ensure workers who need to take prescription or over the counter medication, can do so in a way that keeps them and others around them safe at work.
For workers who drive a vehicle for work, it is a bigger deal because it is actually illegal to drive a vehicle while impaired by drugs, including medicines.
Even medicines that would not be detected in a drug test still have side-effects that could be a safety risk. It is important workers know to monitor how they are feeling and how to find correct information about their medicines.
Workers should review their medicines with their GP in the context of their work duties, as there may be suitable medicine alternatives that are neither impairing nor likely to produce a non-negative drug test.
From a company perspective, it is really important that your drug and alcohol policy covers prescription and over the counter drugs, and that you have a clearly defined process for managing these everyday drugs in your workplace. And finally, a company culture that encourages a proactive and confidential approach to medicines and work cannot be overestimated.
If you need help navigating the world of prescription and over the counter medications in your workplace, give us a call. Our in-house pharmacologist is always happy to assist and can be reached via: email@example.com