Drug & Alcohol Testing:

Prescription or Problem?

Published: 19th May 2020

Prescription drug misuse is consistently making headlines and is becoming a huge concern in the UK. Dependency and misuse has the potential to further increase as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, as illicit drugs become harder to obtain and mental health conditions rise as a result of the pandemic.

One in 20 people in England are being prescribed opioid painkillers, such as Codeine and Tramadol[i]. Although these substances can be legally prescribed, drugs such as Gabapentin and Pregabalin are becoming more readily available via the black market, and according to a BBC investigation, deaths linked to the drugs have increased.

In this blog, we take a closer look at the scope of the problem surrounding prescription drug misuse in the UK and the testing options recommended for the workplace.


According to a report conducted by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG)[ii] four million people in England experienced some symptoms of withdrawal from anti-depressants, in 46% of cases (1.8 million people) these were severe.

Research conducted by the University of Southampton found that being prescribed psychotropic medication for a mental health disorder generally increased the risk of occupational injury by between 40% and 60%.

The concern has also risen in anti-epileptic drug use, with the recent reclassification of Pregabalin and Gabapentin, used to relieve chronic pain. As of the 1st April 2019, the drugs were reclassified to Class C controlled substances in the UK[iii].

A Public Health England report on prescription drug dependency, disclosed that there is a severe lack of services available for opioid painkiller addictions and claimed there was “almost a reluctance” among clinicians to address opioid painkiller addictions because of the lack of available treatment[iv].

It’s clear, that prescription drugs are becoming a huge concern in the UK with the number of drugs dispensed now on the rise.


The side effects of prescription drugs can mirror those of illegal substances when misused, Pregablin and Gabapentin can increase the effects of opioids and benzodiazepines. These can include:

  • Slower reaction times
  • Impaired judgement
  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred vision

These all pose a serious threat to the workplace. In some industries it is often part of an organisation’s drug and alcohol policy that employees working in safety critical roles must declare any medications taken.

A Drug and Alcohol Policy can play a pivotal role in the workplace acting as a preventative measure to drug and alcohol misuse while supporting the health, safety and welfare of employees at work. To find out if your policy covers the testing of prescription drugs, please review your policy or give us a call on 01873 856688.


At SYNLAB Laboratory Services we understand the importance of safeguarding your people and business. We provide urine and saliva tests for a number of prescription drugs, more details on the drugs we test for and the types of test available can be found here.

To speak to a member of our customer services team on the prescription drug testing options available call 01873 856688 or email [email protected]

[i] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/08/strong-painkiller-use-doubles-15-years/

[ii] Antidepressant Dependency and Withdrawal Antidepressant Submission to the Public Health England Review into Prescribed Drug Dependence and Withdrawal. May 2018

[iii] https://www.iosh.com/medication

[iv]   https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/829777/PHE_PMR_report.pdf

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