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Opioid Abuse Affects Employers and Workers

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Opioid Abuse Affects Employers and Workers

Today’s employers and workers are faced with a unique set of issues as a result of rampant opioid abuse.  Since many people have medical reasons for taking prescription opioids during the course of the day to manage pain symptoms, it can be difficult to differentiate between legitimate use and misuse of these substances.  In fact, many people with dependencies on prescription opioids say they were not aware of the transition from their need use opioids to dependence and addiction. No matter which form it takes, opioid abuse takes a toll on employers and Workers alike.  According to one study, in 2007, opioid abuse alone cost employers more than $25 billion. Other studies show opioid abuse affect employers and employees in the following areas:

  • Reduction in productivity levels caused mostly by the after-effects of substance use that directly impact quality of work and job performance.
  • Severe absenteeism and frequent tardiness with lapses in work flow.
  • Mental distraction due to preoccupation with obtaining and using substances during work hours.
  • Involvement in illicit activities that may include selling drugs to other employees
  • Concerns or frequent disruptions from family members, friends or other co-workers with a drug problem.

Opioid Abuse Happens Gradually and Without Warning 

For California resident and author of a recovery book called Ruby Shoes, Michele Zumwalt says her slide into addiction began with opioid Demerol shots that her doctor prescribed for her to treat severe headaches.  In her book, Zumwalt indicated that despite her chronic drug use, she was still able to keep her job in corporate sales for an extended period of time.  During this phase of her life, she continued to make many sales presentations while high on Percodan. Eventually however, the addiction progressed to the point that Zumwalt needed to take medical leave to address the problem. According to one drug treatment professional, the more professional stature an employee has, the longer they are able to continue working with a drug abuse problem.  In many instances, subordinates who observe addiction in their supervisors are hesitant about confronting the addiction for fear of losing their jobs.  Although some employees are able to hide their prescription drug addiction for years in some instances, neurological changes caused by habituated drug use typically manifest as severe recurring problems on the job and lead to termination or forced medical leave. Dr. Don Teater, medical advisor for the advocacy group of the National Safety Council says people in addiction are usually not as sharp or quick thinking as they would be if they were sober. This presents a serious risk factor for people working in safety-sensitive jobs that require the operation of cutting tools,  use of heavy machinery, precision work, being at precarious heights and vehicle operation. Teater suggest that the growing problem of opioid abuse in the work place stem from employer’s failure to test for prescription opioid use.  According to Quest Diagnostics, at least 87% of employers do not require workplace drug screening for prescription opioids. In fact, prescription opioid tests are not required for federal government employees who are in public safety positions and are required to undergo periodic drug testing for other substances.

In the Workplace 

Still, despite various programs to help patients with substance abuse issues, opioid abuse continues to be a mostly overlooked but serious problem in the workplace.  As one study indicate, more than 70% of substance abusers currently have regular jobs and one in three employees are aware that drug sales are occurring in their workplace. Naturally, this places many sober workers at risk of hurt or harm by behaviors of individuals who are high on drugs while at work. In order to help protect workers and employers alike, the National Safety Council recommend that employers expand drug testing parameters to include prescription opioid painkillers as well as train supervisors and employees to recognize the signs and symptoms of opioid abuse.  Organizations are also encouraged to implement Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to offer different resources to employees and aid them in finding treatment solutions to their drug problem. EAP policies also enable workers who achieve full recovery to return to work and offer counseling that help to support their sobriety. If your co-worker is exhibiting signs of substance abuse or addiction, contact a drug treatment center to learn more about how to get them help. Treatment professionals are available 24/7 to help you find the treatment program that is most suitable to you or aloved on’s needs.

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