The lead story on the Arizona Republic Business section on Sunday was headlined "Prolific prescribers face scrutiny as market is flooded with pain pills." While Arizoneout is focused on the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA) and its impact on the workplace, the article was a good reminder that employers also must deal with impairing prescription drugs, which are a much larger relative problem than medical marijuana, at least for the time being.
The art accompanying the article showed a PEZ dispenser with the head of a doctor, with stethoscope and headlamp, dispensing pain pills. The article was focused primarily on the actions taken against two physician dispensers of addictive pain medication. One of those physicians accounted for nearly $1 million in prescriptions for narcotics in 2008 and 2009 that were paid for by the state's Medicaid program.
The article also had some statistical data that employers should keep in mind. Arizona pharmacies dispensed enough oxycodone last year to supply an individual for 26 million days. Stated another way, there was enough oxycodone dispensed to supply every adult in the state for 5.2 days.
The most commonly prescribed narcotics in Arizona after oxycodone were hydrocodone (24.8 million days supply), Ambien (24.1 million days supply), and Xanax (17.3 million days supply).
People taking these drugs are in Arizona workplaces. They have prescriptions for the drugs.
The Drug Testing of Employees Act, and particularly the new provisions just adopted by the legislature in response to the AMMA, offer employers some reasonably good tools for dealing with the impairing effects of all legal drugs. If the controversial nature of the AMMA causes employers to examine what kind of drug testing program is best suited to their unique workplace issues, and if that examination causes employers to adopt and tailor their drug testing polices carefully, then that's one good thing the AMMA has done for employers in the state.