Prescription Drug Abuse in the Workplace

In June we celebrate the fifth annual National Employee Wellness Month which focuses on how engaging employees in sustainable lifestyle change helps to improve employee health and productivity, lower health care costs and create a workplace culture of health.

A startling statistic shows that more than 70 percent of substance abusers hold a job, according to the American Council for Drug Education. This means far too many people are in an altered state while working.

It isn’t just the “harder” drugs such as heroin or meth that employers should worry about, but the prescription drugs that are much more easily accessible, and whose symptoms of use can be more subtle. Someone with a prescription drug addiction may seem to be functional at work while putting themselves and those around them in a compromised or dangerous situation. The employee may not even realize the addictiveness of all of those pills they are taking to stay alert, mitigate pain, or whatever other justification they have for the abuse.

Fortunately, employers can take steps to reduce this problem.

Much comes down to increased education and awareness. Clear guidelines should be in place as to the disciplinary action that will occur if prescription drugs are abused.

Employers can provide materials designed to educate employees on the harmful effects of this type of drug abuse. Additionally, employers can train managers, human resource personnel, and others to identify the signs of drug abuse in their labor force. Such signs include increased absences, decreased productivity and involvement in accidents both on and off the job.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from prescription pain relievers have reached epidemic proportions, now greater than heroin and cocaine combined.

Several factors contribute to this increase in prescription drug abuse. One of the most important factors is availability. Every year, millions of prescriptions are written for pain relievers, anti-anxiety aids and sleeping pills — if an individual wants a pain-killing agent, there is no need to seek a local drug dealer because the medication is often right there in the family medicine cabinet.

The Internet is also a growing source of drug availability. Illegitimate online pharmacies sell controlled substances with no prescription required, while others ask for completion of a medical questionnaire. A full 85 percent of websites offering controlled prescription drugs either do not require a prescription, or allow them to be faxed, further encouraging forgery or fraud.

The average consumer believes that pharmaceutical drugs are safe. After all, they are prescribed by doctors and purchased at pharmacies. Although a drug may be safe when taken by the person who filled the prescription in the manner indicated, this is rarely the case when a third party is involved.

Through awareness and education, companies throughout our nation can help their employees better protect their health and longevity while making the workplace a far safer environment.