Many of us are aware that American drug use in the workplace is a serious and growing issue—but, how serious? What substances are commonly abused at work, and what risks are produced for coworkers and business owners?
In October, 2010, the federal government began tightening drug testing requirements for employees involved with public safety (such as pilots, airplane mechanics, and train operators.) As stricter drug testing policies are put into place, we continue to learn about the substance abuse in the American workforce and what actually is taking place.
Is the US Job Force Plagued by Substance Abuse?
Between January and June 2010, around 320,000 employees in the public safety workforce underwent the oral fluid testing. The heroin test marker was found at a rate of 0.04%, increasing from 0.008% found through urine testing.
“We’re also seeing dramatic increases in on-the-job use of prescription opiates like oxycodone and oxymorphine, [Vicodin and OxyContin],” said Dr. Barry Sample with Quest Diagnostics. Further, test results from over 5 million tests indicated an 18% jump in opiate “positives” between 2009 and 2009—an increase of over 40% since 2005.
Shockingly, reports show in the last year that the number of employees believed to be using heroin has nearly doubled, and those using prescription opiates are increasing at an exponential rate.
Opiates in the Workplace: Risks and Side Effects
While under the influence of powerful opiates such as heroin or OxyContin, an individual may experience any of the following potentially hazardous side effects or adverse reactions:
- Difficulty breathing
- Dizzy spells
- Muscle rigidity
Any of these potential risks could lead to increased chances of an accident, impaired judgment or lost productivity. About 1 in 20 post-accident employee drug tests showed that opiates were found in the employee’s blood stream. Although these statistics are not surprising, “You don’t want to see anyone in a public safety role test positive,” said Dr. Sample.
People turn to drugs or alcohol for a number of reasons. According to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Stress in the workplace, which can play in increased substance use, has amplified in recent years due to job insecurity and a trend toward working longer hours.”
Also according to SAMHSA, of the 20.3 million adults in the U.S. classified as experiencing substance abuse issues, 15.8 million were employed either full or part-time.
While it would be wholly an estimate to place a number on the cost of opiate abuse in the work place, many experts feel that stronger programs which detect and screen such substance abuse could benefit the economy greatly by improving job safety, decreasing worker’s compensation claims and restoring previously lost productivity.
Detecting and Treating Opiate Addiction
“Although sobriety is more important than any job, we ensure the confidentiality and privacy of all of our clients,” says Derry Hallmark, Senior Director For Expansion at Narconon Arrowhead in Canadian, Oklahoma. “Our program outlines key tools to achieving sobriety and resolving stress which may arise in a work environment.”
Vital life and situational skills as well as stress management are key to achieving and maintaining sobriety after an opiate addiction is treated.
If you are suspicious of opiate abuse in your office or place of business, look for some of the indicators of addiction and withdrawal as warning signs. If you uncover a potentially dangerous substance abuse situation in a fellow employee, speak to someone right away.