The Opiate Addict in Your Office

I wrote this the day before actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died from a heroin overdose, or as screenwriter and recovering addict Aaron Sorkin more accurately put it, “He did not die from an overdose of heroin. He died from heroin. We should stop implying if he had just taken the oxycodone kaufen proper amount then everything would have been fine. He didn’t die because he was partying too hard or he was depressed-he died because he was an addict on a day of the week with a y in it.” (1)

Ask anyone associated with substance abuse treatment and they will raise their alarm about the rising number of opiate users in this country who are completely out of control with their drug of choice. Emergency room deaths by opiate overdose have now surpassed overdoses from cocaine or methamphetamine, combined, which is saying something. Opiates continue to rank near the top of the lists of the most prescribed drugs in the US (depending on which data you read), including hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxycontin, and other opiod pain relievers. And with the price of pills on the street often more expensive than heroin, some users are switching to heroin and either injecting it, smoking it, or snorting it.

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The depiction of the opiate addict as unemployed, homeless, or hustling to buy dope by doing street crimes, certainly has its place in society and our history, since opium and heroin became pervasive in the US in the 1900s. But there are far more opiate abusers who have jobs, families, and even an outwardly-displayed sense of stability. Their hidden secret is what ultimately kills them if they don’t reach out for treatment before they overdose for the last time.

The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which oversees the federal government’s response to drug abuse, estimates that 10 to 12 percent of employees use alcohol or illegal drugs while at work. This number does not incorporate a shadow figure-people who abuse opiate drugs, under a physician’s prescription, at work too.

The problem with opiate use is a bit like what recovering alcoholics say about beer: “One is too many; a thousand is not enough.” What starts as a perfectly reasonable use of the drug for pain relief, soon starts to slide into taking too many, too often. Once the patient slips from, “one pill every four to six hours,” to “six pills a day,” and then on to double figures, what started as a legitimate medical use has given way to addiction.

So if the 10 to 12 percent figure for impaired employees is to be believed (and many addiction specialists think it’s low), does that mean that if you work in an office with 30 people then three or four of them are under the influence of drugs and alcohol in the cubicles next to you? It depends. Certain industries over-represent for substance abuse, with construction jobs, trucking (despite constant so-called random “safety sensitive employee” testing), retail sales clerks, and assembly and manufacturing workers near the top of the list. But should you be more aware of co-workers who put themselves, or you, or your organization at risk with their drug use? (With accidents, erratic behavior, and theft being the biggest problems.) If you’re a supervisor (or want to be one, one day), does that mean you have to be a micromanager and spy on everyone? Do you have to become the office tattletale? Or do we want bosses to simply monitor their workplaces for impaired employees and reach out to help them?

If you’re a supervisor, you have the right to address any employee performance or behavior problems that hurt your business. If it’s an off-the-job problem that crosses over to work or it affects other employees and their ability to do their jobs safely and effectively, then you have to intervene. Supervisors who need to develop the courage to have the tough-love, care-fronting conversation (caring enough to confront the employee’s impairment), can get support from other organizational stakeholders, including their bosses, peer supervisors who have more familiarity with the issue, HR, Legal, or outside addiction counselors.

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