By Raymond V. Tamasi, Courtesy of Gosnold on Cape Cod
It is estimated that 15.4 million American workers are using illicit drugs. This costs US business about 193 billion dollars annually. Research findings show that nearly 4 percent of workers test positive for drugs – marijuana, amphetamines, opiates, and benzodiazepines. These employees are three and a half times more likely to be late; two and a half times more likely to have long absences (eight more days); five times more likely to file workers compensation claims; and three times more likely have on the job accidents. If you have a business and you don’t think this applies to you, you could be very lucky; but, it’s more likely you are wrong. And we’re only talking about illicit drugs. These numbers don’t include the effect of alcohol abuse and dependence. Considering that nearly 75 percent of the addiction in the country is to alcohol, the dollar impact on the economy is staggering. This data has been around for years, as has data suggesting that employee assistance programs and workforce wellness policies have beneficial effects. Yet, many employers ignore the facts and rely on their own strategies to figure things out when an employee’s performance begins to decline and drug or alcohol use is the suspected culprit.
Of course, as unsettling as these numbers are, the current opiate crisis and the tragedy it has brought to our communities is much more disturbing. Not a day goes by in the Commonwealth without another report of an opiate overdose death. It is not unreasonable to suggest that every business has felt the effects of this seemingly unrelenting trend. Sadly, it has taken tragedy upon tragedy to awaken us to the problem. Addiction professionals have been expressing concern for years. Nearly 13 years ago we were visited at Gosnold by pharmaceutical representatives to discuss what was then the growing trend of prescription pain medication abuse. That growing trend has now reached near epidemic proportions. And what was once just the business of medical professionals is now everyone’s business.
We are facing an acute crisis, but more than that, an embedded societal problem. We are oriented to quick fixes. One can’t have a television on for an hour without seeing the promotion of a pill for almost every conceivable malady. We (and more importantly, our children) are bombarded with messages about how using a chemical (don’t forget alcohol) will transform us our circumstances into something magical. The script for trouble is written just underneath the glamour. And too many of us are buying the lie.
While specific skills and knowledge are required to diagnose and treat alcohol, opiate and other drug dependency, it is incumbent on all of us to help change what our society thinks it knows about this condition – Most people think it’s a matter of choice and will. In fact, neuroscience has taught us that addiction is a brain disorder and people with the disorder can and do respond to addictive and sustained clinical interventions. We need to change how we view those who have the condition – as patients who suffer, not as persons intentionally seeking to inflict pain and misery on themselves and the ones they love. And we need to create an open environment of communication, an environment devoid of shame and guilt, the shame and guilt that keep families shrouded in secrecy and patients scrambling for inexplicable rationalizations about why they do what they do.
Think about what difference it would make if we could assimilate and internalize these tenets and spread them across our region. There are signs that this is beginning to happen and that is encouraging. Businesses can and must play an important role in the effort. Make your place of business a place where your employees can get information pamphlets and flyers. Consider establishing an Employee Assistance Program to give your workers direction and support if and when they need help. And support community prevention coalitions, support groups, and other helping resources. We can and will overcome the opiate crisis, though far too late for many.
Make it your business to be an active and local participant. It will do more than improve your bottom line.
If you or someone you know needs assistance with treating addiction, please call Duffy at 508-771-9599 or visit our web site DuffyHealthCenter.org.