We all have weird coworkers; when people who do and say ridiculous things, we think, "Surely, he's on drugs."

Well, you might be right.

According to the American Council for Drug Education, more than 70 percent of substance abusers hold a job. While this statistic includes abuse of both legal and illegal drugs, Quest Diagnostics, a diagnostic testing company, reported the use of prescription opiates by American workers and job applicants has increased by 40% since 2005.

Results from more than 5.5 million urine drug tests reveal an 18 percent jump in opiate positives in the general U.S. workforce in a single year (2008 to 2009), and a more than 40 percent climb from 2005 to 2009.

In addition, 2009 post-accident drug tests found opiates up to four times more often than pre-employment tests (3.7 percent in post-accident as compared to 0.78 percent in pre-employment tests in the case of hydrocodone), suggesting that these drugs may be playing a role in workplace accidents.

"Evidence of increased opiate use is now appearing in the workplace as well as the ER," said Dr. Barry Sample, director of science and technology for Employer Solutions, Quest Diagnostics. "Because more U.S. workers are performing their duties while taking prescription opiates, employers, particularly those with safety-sensitive workers, should note this trend and take appropriate steps to ensure worker and public safety."

And intoxicated employees aren't just a danger to themselves; they can be a danger to anyone around them.

The Florida Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (FSIPP), the group behind The Pain Truth, a statewide educational campaign dedicated to fighting prescription drug abuse; wants to educate employers and employees on ways to help reduce the risk of accidents precipitated by prescription addiction.

FSIPP pain physicians, located throughout the state, have drawn up some recommendations to help employers and employees raise awareness of prescription drug abuse in the workplace.

For Employers

  • Provide materials that will educate employees on the harmful effects of prescription drug abuse.
  • Be sure to have clearly stated rules in place outlining the disciplinary actions should prescription drug abuse be present in the workplace.
  • Trainmanagers, human resource personnel, and others to identify and handle substance abusers.
  • Look for abuse among the workforce; some signs of abuse include increased absences, decreased productivity and involvement in accidents both on and off the job.

For Employees

  • Take responsibility - whether legal or otherwise, prescription pills do have side effects so be sure to be aware of the implications for both employee and employers if accidents do occur.
  • If affected by prescription drug addiction, take advantage of the programs and information available.

"Being under the influence of prescription drugs can hinder an individual's mindset especially when operating heavy machinery," said Deborah Tracy, MD, president of FSIPP. "Safety and precaution are important first steps to take in order to start turning the tide on this current downward trend."