While federal agents secretly investigated illegal prescription narcotic sales and abuse at a Boeing Co. plant, the company said it was able to keep suspected employees from risking their co-workers' safety.
The U.S. Justice Department announced Sept. 29 that after a four-year undercover investigation, agents from the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration arrested more than two dozen employees working at a military aircraft manufacturing plant near Philadelphia.
Indictments charged them with the illegal distribution of prescription drugs including opioid painkillers such as fentanyl and oxycodone.
In addition to the indictments, 14 other defendants were charged with attempted misdemeanor possession of drugs sold by co-workers.
"The defendants are accused of diverting controlled substances and selling them to alleged abusers," the Justice Department said in a written statement. "These sales placed the individual abusers, as well as society at large, at risk. Part of DEA's mission is to investigate the unlawful diversion of pharmaceutical controlled substances and bring those involved to justice, whether it is a doctor, pharmacist or street distributor."
The sales of the drugs on Boeing property show how pervasive the problem of prescription drug abuse is, the Justice Department said.
Employers nationwide have learned that some workers' compensation claimants are becoming addicted to opioid painkillers prescribed for their work-related injuries.
But they are just beginning to grow aware that employees using those prescription drugs may also drive workplace injuries, said Terrie Norris, a risk control manager for Bickmore Risk Services in Long Beach, California, and president of the Des Plaines, Illinois-based American Society of Safety Engineers.
Employers still are more focused on losses stemming from other drugs such as marijuana, Norris said.
A spokesman for Boeing said the company first learned of the problem from employees who reported it to a hot line. That triggered an internal investigation that was handed off to federal investigators.
"Because of close cooperation with authorities throughout the investigation Boeing was able to put in place measures necessary to ensure employees under suspicion were not in a position to impact the safety of their teammates or the quality of the product," the spokesman said. "There was no opportunity for the suspected employees to put at risk the safety of their teammates."
But the spokesman would not provide specific details about Boeing's measures.