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Prescription drug abuse a workplace concern

By Amanda Silliker

Prescription drug abuse is a significant problem in the Canadian workforce, according to workplace drug and alcohol consultant Nadine Wentzell, speaking at Safety Services Nova Scotia’s 32nd Annual Workplace Safety Conference in Halifax.

Both health concerns and deaths related to prescription drug abuse are on the rise across the country. And this trend is posed to continue with Canadians aged 18 to 24 being the highest abusers of prescription drugs, she said.

Canadian organizations are seeing the effects of opioid abuse in the form of turnover, absenteeism, lost productivity and more accidents.

Psychoactive drugs impair a person’s ability to move, think and exercise judgment, which have widespread implications.

“I always say there’s a ripple effect because if someone has a substance abuse problem, who is the first people that are going to know? Their co-workers. And often they’re compensating, walking on eggshells, doing double duty, extra vigilant and they are potentially at a safety risk as well,” said Wentzell.

There are three main types of psychoactive drugs:

Sedatives: These slow people down, such as sleeping pills, Valium and Xanax. Canada is the second top user in the world, second only to the United States.

Stimulants: These are the uppers, which are amphetamines, such as Adderall. They are used in a clinical setting to treat attention deficit disorders. Use in Canada is in the top 10 in the world.

Pain relievers/narcotics: These are opioids, which are used primarily for pain relief, and are chemically related to heroin. 

There are several myths about prescription drug abusers that Wentzell says need to be debunked: They look like drug users, they are anti-establishment, and it is very obvious they abuse drugs.

“I worked for 10 years with health professional, who were some of the brightest people I have ever met and held very high, important and responsible positions and they functioned normally, you would have never known,” said Nadine.

People who have an addiction will do everything they can to mask it in the workplace because they need to keep it a secret and they need money to fund their addiction.

Some signs a worker may be abusing prescription drugs include: uneasiness, yawning, runny nose, tears, nausea and vomiting.

Employers should develop a culture where employees with substance abuse problems are encouraged to self-report and do not face the risk of repercussions.

“Put it right in the policy: If you come forward, we will support you 100 per cent, we will cover your pay, get you assessed by a specialist, we’ll make sure any treatment that’s required, you’re covered,” said Wentzell. “And these people who have successfully gone through a program and come back are the most loyal, dedicates employees you’re ever going to meet, and they will be your strongest advocate for programs going forward.”

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