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Jul 2016

Opiate Addiction: What to do when you suspect drug abuse


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There is a new problem sweeping across America; the rise of opiate addiction. The issue of opiate addiction is perpetuated by a population that is constantly seeking pain relief from injuries, chronic pain, and other ailments. In 2013, there were over 200 million prescriptions written for opiate medications. Additionally, up to 85% of worker’s compensation claims that required pain relief were prescribed with an opiate medication.

The dangers of Opiates

Opiate medications, such as Vicodan, are very effective pain relievers. However, these medications are a double edged sword. The pain relief and euphoria characterized by opiate medications are what make opiates so addictive. When an opiate enters the system it triggers the release of the organic chemical Dopamine. Dopamine is what drives our pleasure seeking behavior. Opiates flood the brain with Dopamine, which brings intense highs.  The prolonged use, and overuse, of opiates have very nasty side effects. The short term effects include nausea, respiratory depression, and paranoia. However, long term side effects include brain damage, liver damage, and severe dependency on the drug.

How to spot an addiction

Whether it is a full-fledged addiction or only the start of an abusive tendency, employers and employees need to be on the lookout for telltale signs. There are an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States who are addicted to opiates. There is a legitimate possibility that someone in your workplace is struggling with, or will struggle with an opiate addiction. Employers and employees should know the signs of potential opiate abuse. So, if you suspect someone in your workplace is struggling with an addiction. Be on the lookout for these signs:

  1. Frequent tardiness/absence: If an employee is excessively tardy or absent then this may be a sign of distress.
  2. Reduced Productivity: An employee who is struggling with opiate abuse will likely be only a shadow of their previous productivity. Be on the lookout for employees who suddenly drop in performance, frequently miss meetings, submit late work, or any other form of reduced efficiency and productivity.
  3. Change in physical appearance: An individual struggling with an addiction may appear disheveled. For example, a lack of rest may cause heavy bags beneath the eyes, as well as bloodshot eyes. Additionally, professional appearance may suffer; lack of appropriate dress, wrinkled shirts, etc.
  4. Accident prone: opiate abusers are five times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident than other employees. Also, be wary of clumsy activity; such as stumbling, fumbling items, and a general lack in fine motor skills.
  5. Out of Place: The best way to identify strange behavior is to know the individual and their typical behavior. Be sure you interact with coworkers and employees. The better you know someone the more likely it is that you will be able to identify strange behavior.

You have your suspicions, now what?

If you suspect someone is struggling with an addiction, then you need to do something. If you know the person well, then you may consider confronting that individual privately. Typically, the best option is to bring your suspicions to the attention of your supervisor. Every workplace should have a clearly outlined drug abuse policy. Supervisors, it is important to remember it is not your job to remedy the addiction. Rather, hold your employee accountable, advise them to get help, and allow them to do so.

Every employer should seek to create a supportive workplace environment. Encouraging a culture in which employees are aware, and care about each other will improve workplace safety. Every workplace could benefit from training and informative seminars regarding opiate addiction. Providing employees with the information and tools necessary to protect and look out for each other is essential to workplace safety. Ultimately, a supportive work environment goes a long way in both the personal and professional lives of employees. If you suspect a coworker is dealing with an addiction, do not stand idly by. If your suspicions are well founded, you need to speak up.

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