TAKEAWAY: Canada’s prescription rate for opioids is one of the highest in the world. Construction workers are among the highest group affected in western Canada. Here’s what you can do to address the opioid crisis in your workplace.
Table of contents
- Risks of Opioids Use in the Workplace
- Establish a Workplace Drug and Alcohol Policy
- Encourage Reporting
- Provide Safe Disposal
- Raise Awareness
- Provide First Aid Training and Tools
- Offer Return-to-Work Programs
- Deliver Sick Leave or Similar Benefits
- Support Recovery
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Canada’s prescription rate for opioids, an effective but highly addictive painkiller, is one of the highest in the world. Worse, 10% of people who are prescribed this medication admit to problematic behaviours that can include taking too much, taking it too often, or using it to get high. And these numbers do not include the large numbers of people accessing illegal opioids, such as Fentanyl, which has increased rapidly driven by the isolating effects of the pandemic. The crisis is worse in certain parts of the country, particularly the west, and males, particularly those working in specific industries such as construction, appear to be more at risk.
Risks of Opioids Use in the Workplace
In the workplace, opioid abuse puts everyone at risk. It has been associated with increased absenteeism and loss of productivity. Still, more importantly, the effects of these drugs pose a serious threat to the health and safety of all workers.
Opioids can cause a host of short-term side effects from drowsiness to dizziness and confusion, all of which can cause impairment and prevent workers from doing their jobs safely. They can impair thinking and reaction time and increase the potential for errors and accidents. The risks are compounded for those in safety-sensitive positions.
Over the long term, even legal use of prescription opioids can quickly develop into dependence, and users seek out illegal drugs to fill the void. Addiction can make it difficult for the workers to focus on the job at hand, not to mention the effect this has on the individual’s mental health and well-being as well as the well-being of those around them. Finally, there is also the genuine threat of overdose as long-term dependence increases the need for more and more of a drug to achieve the desired effect.
Thankfully, there are many things an employer can do to help.
Establish a Workplace Drug and Alcohol Policy
An effective workplace drug and alcohol policy can help cement a positive workplace culture that rejects drug abuse and embraces safety. It should include statements that the organization will not tolerate drug use on the job and possible punitive measures that could be taken. Include testing requirements and procedures such as which type of tests will be required and what will happen if an employee tests positive. However, a drug and alcohol policy must also focus on preventative measures, supports, and services for employees seeking rehabilitation. This can include education on drugs of abuse, training on recognizing the signs of addiction, and a description of the mental health and substance abuse services sponsored offered by the company.
Another risk prevention strategy involves creating a clear process for workers to report impairment, their own and suspected impairment in others, and providing training on the reporting process. It is important that employers make privacy and safety a focus, rather than punitive measures. If a worker self-reports, ensure the consequences are focused on getting them the help they need. Train company supervisors to recognize when medical intervention is required and carefully document incidences.
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Provide Safe Disposal
Workers may hold on to old medications just in case or provide them to fellow workers or family members. In fact, many people begin an opioid addiction this way with drugs supplied to them by well-meaning friends or family. Offer a safe disposal option for workers to rid themselves of medications they no longer need or want and encourage workers to use them.
Provide education about the dangers presented by opioid prescriptions and encourage workers to discuss alternatives with their employers. Offer information to help workers and supervisors recognize impairment in themselves and others. Include the use of prescription medication in your workplace impairment policies and tell your workers not to share drugs with others. Help prevent injuries by providing education and training on preventing musculoskeletal disorders and back injuries.
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Provide First Aid Training and Tools
Consider adding naloxone to your first aid tool kit (a fast-acting drug that can be used to temporarily reverse the effects of opioid overdoses), and provide training to supervisors and first aid providers on how to use it to reverse an overdose. Train everyone in the appropriate responses and safety protocol during drug-related incidents, whether they involve law enforcement, first aid, or post-incident testing first aid.
Offer Return-to-Work Programs
Returning to work too quickly can put a worker at increased risk for abusing painkillers. Encourage an appropriately timed return with a return-to-work program that allows them to recuperate or ease back into their job with appropriate accommodations. As part of a broader program, mandatory medical assessments before an employee’s return to work can protect everyone. SureHire helps hundreds of companies manage their return-to-work programs. Contact us for details.
Deliver Sick Leave or Similar Benefits
Workers at higher risk for opioid abuse tend to have less job security and no access to sick leave benefits. Because of this, these workers may feel the need to return to work too quickly following an injury. Mitigate this risk by offering sick leave or similar benefits to injured workers to ensure they return to work when they are ready and not before when they may feel pressure to mask lingering pain with the use of opioids.
Ensure your workplace policies support those who seek help. Addiction is an illness, and it should be treated like one. Provide support and remove stigmas in your workplace to ensure that anyone who needs help knows they can ask for it and receive it. These supports can include access to mental health and wellness programs, addiction counselling, substance abuse professionals or ongoing substance abuse education.
Better Mental Wellness; Stronger Business
EQ Resilience and EQ at Work help companies identify early signs of mental health imbalance so they can provide support before any serious problems occur. In addition, this tool allows employers to monitor their employee’s well-being over time so they can provide support when needed and prevent potential problems from occurring in the future. Save your company time and money by preventing costly turnover and improving satisfaction at work.
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