While the toll of the prescription drug epidemic in society is well-documented, the impact on employers has not been studied closely.

To learn more about how prescription drugs affect the workplace, the Idaho Office on Drug Policy and Idaho Industrial Commission are holding a panel discussion Dec. 5.

A diverse panel that includes law enforcement, a physician, the state pharmacy association, and an employers’ group “will really help us understand the cost to the employer of having untreated drug use in the office,” said Nicole Fitzgerald, interim administrator of the Idaho Office on Drug Policy.

A survey by the National Safety Council found that 70 percent of businesses report that narcotic painkillers have affected their business. Medication addictions may not be as noticeable as some other substance abuse problems; for example, they cannot be sensed as easily as alcohol, which smells distinctive. They can be invisible until they’re fatal.

But opioids and other drugs hurt productivity, cause absenteeism, and eventually harm work performance to the point where people can lose their jobs, said Jean Lockhart, the CFO at the Boise Rescue Mission. Lockhart said it’s common to meet people who are unemployed because of substance abuse.

“It’s a complicated problem, because when you have a surgery or dental procedure, you genuinely need a pretty good painkiller,” Lockhart said. Yet, some painkillers cause recovering addicts to relapse.

Prescription drugs are taking a heavy toll in Idaho. The number of drug-induced deaths by synthetic opioids (other than methadone) rose nearly 70 percent from 2015 to 2016, the Department of Health and Welfare said in an opioid needs assessment released in October. Synthetic opioids include medications such as fentanyl.

Read more about prescription drug use in the workplace at the Idaho Business Review online.