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Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

On October 26, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump officially declared “the opioid crisis a national public health emergency under federal law” and directed executive agencies “to fight the opioid crisis” during a speech at the White House. The growing awareness of an opioid crisis in America by employers and the need for advanced drug testing for opiates in the workplace is trend number 7 of the “ESR Top Ten Background Check Trends” for 2018 selected by global background check firm Employment Screening Resources (ESR).

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) – which advances science on drug use and addiction – defines opioids as including “the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and legally prescribed pain relievers such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.” Statistics from the NIDA opioid crisis webpage reveal more than 90 Americans die of an opioid overdose every day, and more than 33,000 Americans died of an opioid overdose in 2015.

During his speech, President Trump said more than 11 million Americans abuse prescription opioids, opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999, and the United States uses “more opioid pills per person than any other country by far in the world.”  President Trump – who also said “we lost at least 64,000 Americans to overdoses” last year – used the event to sign a presidential memorandum “Combatting the National Drug Demand and Opioid Crisis” for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies.

Even with President Trump declaring the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, employers hoping to avoid hiring opioid-addicted workers through workplace drug testing may not be detecting the most abused prescription drugs as part of their current substance abuse testing program, according to the Talent Economy article “What Can Employers Do to Fight the Opioid Epidemic?” that interviewed Dawn Standerwick, Vice President of Strategic Growth at Employment Screening Resources (ESR).

In the article, Standerwick – who has extensive knowledge of workplace drug testing and is a past Chair of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) – said employers “need to recognize that there has been a surge in drug use, prescription drug use in particular,” and that often drug test panels selected by employers may not even test for the most commonly abused substances that include many synthetic and semi-synthetic opiates.

Standerwick explained most drug test programs encompass a standard 5, 9, or 10 panel test which does not include synthetic and semi-synthetic opiates like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone. The standard drug test panel used by most employers only tests for naturally occurring opiates codeine and morphine, not synthetic versions. In order to detect synthetic opiates, an expanded opiates panel must be added. She also suggested “business leaders should take proactive measures” with drug testing.

Opioid abuse cost U.S. employers $16.3 billion in 2013 in disability claims and lowered productivity. A Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) study of 25 states found most workers’ compensation claims now involve opioid use with a high of 88 percent of workers’ compensation claims in Arkansas involving that class of drugs. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed opioid prescriptions and opioid overdose deaths nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014.

In November of 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a final rule in the Federal Register that added four semi-synthetic opioids – hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and oxymorphone – to its drug testing panel for DOT regulated industries. Beginning on January 1, 2018, employees of DOT regulated employers will also be tested for these four semi-synthetic opioids that are also known as OxyContin®, Percodan®, Percocet®, Vicodin®, Lortab®, Norco®, Dilaudid®, and Exalgo®.

As required by the Omnibus Transportation Employee Testing Act of 1991, the DOT is harmonizing with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) revised Mandatory Guidelines Federal drug testing programs announced on January 23, 2017. The final rule announced on November 13, 2017 clarifies existing drug testing program provisions and definitions, makes technical amendments, and removes the requirement for employers and Consortium/Third Party Administrators to submit blind specimens.

The opioid crisis is growing in the United States as the number of Americans being diagnosed with an opioid addiction continues to skyrocket. A study from Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of its members found that the number of people diagnosed with an addiction to opioids climbed 493 percent from 2010 to 2016. While there were only 1.4 incidences of opioid use disorder among every 1000 members in 2010, that rate had climbed to 8.3 incidences for every 1000 members by 2016.

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) – a leading global background check firm headquartered in the San Francisco, California area – will release the 11th annual “ESR Top Ten Background Check Trends” of 2018 via the ESR News Blog during December of 2017. The complete list of emerging and influential trends in the background screening industry for the coming year as chosen by ESR will be available in January of 2018 on the ESR website at

ESR Webinar on Top Ten Background Check Trends for 2018

Employment Screening Resources (ESR) founder and CEO Attorney Lester Rosen will host a live webinar entitled “ESR Top Ten Background Check Trends for 2018” that will take place on Wednesday, January 17, 2018, from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM Noon Pacific Time. To register for the complimentary webinar from ESR, which will acquaint employers and Human Resources (HR) professionals with emerging and influential trends in the background screening industry, please visit

NOTE: Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) does not provide or offer legal services or legal advice of any kind or nature. Any information on this website is for educational purposes only.

© 2017 Employment Screening Resources® (ESR) – Making copies or using of any part of the ESR News Blog or ESR website for any purpose other than your own personal use is prohibited unless written authorization is first obtained from ESR.

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