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Dealing with Opiates in the Workplace Is Everyone's Concern

Dealing with Opiates in the Workplace Is Everyone's Concern

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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

The elected leaders of our country have declared war on opiates and suggested programs to help our citizens get off these drugs. This problem has been around for some time and many families have suffered from seeing a loved one addicted to drugs or dead from an overdose.

In addition, many businesses have lost money as a result of employees who are still functioning in the workplace, but struggle with their drug use.

What Do We Know about Opiates That Should Concern Us?

Dr. Steve Albrecht is a San Diego-based speaker, author and trainer who focuses on high-risk employee issues. Writing in Psychology Today, Dr. Albrecht offers these startling facts:

  • There are a rising number of opiate users in the United States who are out of control with the use of their drug of choice.
  • Emergency room deaths by opiate overdose have passed the number of overdoses from cocaine or methamphetamine combined.
  • Opiates rank near the top of the list of the most prescribed drugs in the United States.
  • Since the price of pills on the street tends to be more expensive than heroin, some users are switching to heroin.

How Does Opiate Use Affect the Workplace?

The usual notion of an addict is someone down on his luck, unemployed, homeless and hustling for drug money. However, many opiate abusers have families and jobs. (Yes, they might even work with you!) Opiate abusers know how to blend in and appear normal.

SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, oversees the federal government’s response to drug abuse. SAMHSA estimates that 10 percent to 12 percent of employees use alcohol or illegal drugs at work. This number does not include a shadow figure — workers on the job who abuse opiate drugs from a physician’s prescription.

If you have a work team with 10 members, for instance, one to two of them could be under the influence of alcohol or opiates. Certain industries have a higher percentage of substance abuse. For example, employees in construction, trucking, retail sales and assembly line work tend to have a higher rate of substance abuse due to the stressful nature of their work.

You may not work in one of these occupations, but you could still be at risk. Addicted employees put you, themselves, co-workers and the organization in a more vulnerable situation because of the potential increase in accidents, erratic behavior and even theft.

How Do You Identify Opiate Addicts?

Some addicts can function and blend into society. Do not be surprised if there are no readily identifiable signs at your place of employment.

According to Drugabuse.com, high-functioning addicts can:

  1. Hold down a job as well as work overtime and look normal
  2. Be successful professionally
  3. Maintain active social lives
  4. Hide their addiction from family and friends

Also, the five signs of a high-functioning addict are:

  1. They make excuses for their behavior. They will justify their behavior as being normal and insist that other people do the same thing.
  2. They drink or do more drugs than intended. The average person is a social drinker and might have a couple of drinks over the course of a weekend. However, addicts tend to have many drinks more often than the average person.
  3. Their friends also have addiction issues. “Birds of a feather flock together” to validate their behavior.
  4. They appear to be ill in the morning. They have a headache, hangover or withdrawal symptoms.
  5. They tend to lose interest in their hobbies. There’s no room for hobbies and addiction, so one has to go. Unfortunately, the addict’s choice is addiction over hobbies.

As the addiction progresses, employees may start to exhibit behavior that is readily identifiable. According to the Promises Treatment Centers, one of those behaviors is frequent tardiness or unexplained absences. Other behaviors include:

  • Inconsistent on-the-job performance
  • Frequent small accidents resulting in minor injuries or broken objects
  • Unusual physical symptoms or behaviors (unsteady gait, hyperactive/manic activity, sudden weight loss, dental problems, wearing long sleeves on hot days, etc.)
  • A sudden lack of concern over personal appearance and hygiene
  • Paranoia or overreaction to criticism or helpful suggestions
  • An unwillingness to talk about hobbies, family life or personal interests in someone who was forthcoming before
  • Lower levels of productivity in the morning; a general sluggishness when first reporting to work
  • Bloodshot eyes or bags under the eyes indicating a lack of sleep

Workplace Options for Helping Someone Addicted to Opiates

If you think you shouldn’t get involved with a co-worker who is abusing alcohol or opiates, you’re wrong. Addiction can be fatal; addicts can hurt themselves and others, including you.

Do you believe employees suffering from substance abuse should be given the opportunity to turn their life around? If so, then be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Bring the situation to the attention of your supervisor or Human Resources, so they address the perceived abuse.

Refer the employee to your organization’s policy on substance abuse to see what options are available. Perhaps there is an opportunity for that employee to take a leave of absence or to join the company’s employee assistance program.

Let’s tackle this growing opiate epidemic by reaching out to those whom we know are suffering from this addiction. Everyone deserves an opportunity to lead a wholesome, addiction-free life.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.

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