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Navigating Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications in the Workplace

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Commencing Drug & Alcohol Testing in the workplace can prove controversial, but it is also a vital part of Australian policies for organisations and their safety programs. Drugs, alcohol and substance abuse in the workplace is everyone's responsibility within the workplace according to the New South Wales government.

Late last year we commenced random drug and alcohol testing at work 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.

Luckily, our in-house pharmacologist has unique expertise in how medicines react within the body and the potential effect these may have on the impairment of an individual within the workplace. Similarly, our pharmacologist is specialised in understanding the laboratory processes required for drug and alcohol confirmation testing and the ways these impact individual working capacity. Immediately, she worked out which (if any) of the medications this worker was taking could potentially lead to a non-negative result. Fortunately, in this instance (which isn’t always the case!), the worker knew the correct names of the four medications he was taking. Our pharmacologist was able to then identify the drug classification of each of those medications and was able to determine whether or not these drugs were routinely tested in workplace drug testing. She was able to ascertain that only two of the four medications could potentially trigger a positive drug test 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.

It is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe workplace for employees from alcohol and drugs. So, if you suspect your employees are abusing drugs or alcohol, you can act according to your workplace drug and alcohol policies. This is a right and legal requirement for employers. Employers can request their employees take drug and alcohol tests as long as the parameters are clear in your organisation's policy. It is important to ensure employees undergo testing especially if they are transporting goods, passengers, operating heavy machinery, or in law enforcement.

Of course, the real issue here is not passing or failing a drug and alcohol test, but how to ensure workers who need to take prescriptions or over the counter medication can do so in a way that keeps them and others around them safe, to ultimately, reduce the risks at work.

Employees who are unfit for their work if under the influence of drugs and or alcohol place themselves and other colleagues within the workplace at risk of harm as well as the occurrence of other hazardous events. Despite the consumption of drugs and alcohol occurring outside of working hours or directly within the workplace environment. The misuse of drugs and alcohol poses an even larger threat to those employees who operate heavy machinery and or drive a vehicle to fulfil their work, this is because the law states it is illegal to drive a vehicle while being impaired by drugs, including some prescribed medications.

Even though some medicines cannot be detected in a drug test conducted at work, there are still side effects that could pose a safety risk to the individuals themselves but also to those around them. It is important for individuals to understand how to monitor how they feel and how to find the correct information to educate themselves about the medicine they ingest.

Workers should review their medicines with their GP in the context of their employment obligations, and discuss all suitable alternatives that will allow them to fulfil their workplace roles. It is important for these revised prescriptions to be neither impairing nor likely to produce a non-negative drug test.

From a company perspective, it is really important that your workplace 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. 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:


DASA (Drug and Alcohol Solutions Australia) is proud to be leading the way in workplace drug and alcohol services throughout Australia. Whether your need is for workplace drug testing and workplace alcohol testing, advice on drug and alcohol policy or ideas on how to communicate your workplace expectations, policies and procedures to your staff, DASA can help. We have the experience, technical expertise and people to lead you to the right solution.


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