News outlets have been reporting for months that heroin use and subsequent overdoses are drastically increasing in the U.S. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the drug started gaining newfound popularity around 2007. Before then, less than 100,000 Americans were estimated to be using heroin. In 2013, the SAMHSA reported that number had risen to almost 700,000.
This is problematic for many employers, as more addicts are likely impaired while on the job. The side effects of heroin use are significant and can lead to serious problems for businesses. Here are a few facts that employers should know about the rise of this drug and how companies can screen their employees for illicit substances.
“Heroin use is especially prominent among millennials.”
The growing heroin problem
Over the past several years, the statistics on heroin use have been jarring. In 2013, the SAMHSA reported that around 517,000 people were dependent on the drug. The opiate is especially popular among 18- to 25-year-olds, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This trend has expanded out of urban areas into rural regions, meaning potential problems for companies in cities and suburbs alike.
There are a number of theories why heroin is growing quickly in popularity, while other drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine have been on the decline. Forbes noted that some experts think the inverse correlation has to do with the rising price of certain drugs – particularly nonprescription painkillers. Forbes reported that OxyContin can cost up to $100 for just 80 milligrams. Individuals who become addicted to these types of drugs often find that heroin is a much cheaper substitute at an average cost of $10 per dose.
Side effects of heroin use in the workplace
Even if workers are not using heroin while on the clock, the drugs are associated with a number of side effects that can compromise the safety of the workplace. Trey Grayson, president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, explained to the Wall Street Journal that heroin and opiate addicts are often involved with workplace accidents, internal theft and low productivity. Addicts are also more likely to miss work, which leads to high turnover rates in areas where there is a notable heroin problem.
Some employers may think that their workers are dedicated enough to stay sober on the job, but recent studies hint that might not be the case. Research shows more workers are testing positive for heroin and other opiates during corporate drug tests. Employees who have the drug in their system during work hours may be unfocused, absentminded or agitated. These side effects can put both the worker and other staff members at risk, and the employer would likely be held liable for any accident involving the drug user.
Implementing a corporate drug policy
The trend of heroin use does not seem to be tapering off, which is why employers need to be diligent about screening their workers for illegal drugs. Companies that do not have written drug screening policies should create company-wide procedures to protect their workers and assets.
Most experts recommend that employers ask individuals to take a drug test as part of the pre-employment screening process. However, it is not enough to simply test workers once at the beginning of their employment. Many companies benefit from random drug testing throughout the year. Further, employers may want to consider offering employee substance abuse education courses and training supervisors on the signs of drug use.
These steps will help businesses to keep their workers safe and productive, while simultaneously decreasing the risk of drug-related workplace accidents and lawsuits.
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