America has a drug problem. The use of opioids, whether natural opium derivatives or synthetic equivalents, has skyrocketed in the 21st century, with over 10 million Americans reporting misuse of these drugs. This includes prescription opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine, but often goes beyond prescription medications into illegal drugs such as heroin and opium. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid similar to morphine but several times stronger, is a post-operative painkiller that has found its way to the streets as a standalone drug and an additive to others.
Seldom is opioid use purely recreational. Often, it’s a response to injury and the necessity to work through it—with hard work to do and time off in short supply, workers try to “play through the pain” with the aid of these drugs. The highly addictive properties of opioids, however, lead to serious problems for both users and people they work with. The dangers of opioid use in the workplace are such that they can affect coworkers, employers, and even customers. Here’s what to look out for.
Opioids affect the brain on a level that mere analgesics such as aspirin and ibuprofen don’t. Side effects of opioids include nausea, drowsiness, and gastrointestinal issues. People under the influence of these drugs suffer from impaired judgment and reaction time, which can be highly hazardous in situations that require quick thinking and intuition. Even in jobs that don’t involve heavy machinery, brain fog and a lack of focus can adversely affect worker productivity in the office.
Addiction and Withdrawal
Opioids are some of the most addictive substances we can put into our bodies. As such, the need to continue taking them can become all-consuming. Employees may become so desperate that they take these drugs while on the premises, opening employers up to legal liability. Whether or not they do, addiction can encroach even further upon a worker’s mental acuity and commitment to the job. It’s not uncommon for employees with addictions to miss work altogether. Meanwhile, even people who try to quit their habits can suffer. The symptoms of opioid withdrawal, such as generalized muscle pain and high anxiety, can easily affect job performance. Some people’s concentration may be just as compromised by withdrawal as it is by the opioids themselves.
What Can Employers Do?
Any employer or manager, whether in charge of blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, or both, has a vested interest in preventing the dangers of opioid use in the workplace. Testing for drug use in employees, either in the immediate aftermath of an accident or after reasonable suspicion that drug abuse is a problem, can not only benefit the business, but may be a positive intervention in an employee’s life.