Opioid abuse-related talks appear to be everywhere. It pops up in advertisements before YouTube videos play, it is at the forefront of many political candidates’ platform and it seems to be an ever-growing issue, especially in the Tri-Lakes Area.
We may know at least one person who has or is misusing prescription medications. Maybe it’s a family member who is struggling with their pain medication from an injury or a friend who never tossed their old prescriptions. The Stone and Taney County Substance Abuse Initiative continued its community awareness campaign on opioid abuse during a seminar June 26 at Arrowhead Building Supply, Inc. Sponsored by Hollister Area Chamber of Commerce, the program focused on substance abuse within the workplace.
Heather Lyons-Burney, a pharmacist and clinical assistant professor at UMKC School of Pharmacy at Missouri State University, was the main speaker and focused on four topics:
–Education – What is prescription drug misuse?
–Identification – How do I know if someone is misusing prescription drugs?
–Prevention – What is the impact to businesses?
–Action – What workplace tools are available to promote a drug-free work environment?
Lyons-Burney said misusing medications can include taking more than prescribed, taking medication for a reason different than prescribed or sharing/taking someone else’s medication.
There are several factors that can influence misusing prescription drugs, such as pressures facing youth, a drug-taking culture, easy access and more. According to drugfree.org, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid medications in 2012. That’s “enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills,” Lyons-Burney said. In 2014, almost 2 million Americans abused prescription medications.
“Nearly 80 percent of people who inject heroin start by abusing (prescription) drugs,” she said.
As far as overdoses, “prescription opioid misuse and abuse resulted in almost 660,000 emergency department visits in 2010, over twice as many as in 2004, substance abuse treatment admissions for opiates other than heroin increased more than six-fold from 1999 to 2009 and, in 2015, more people died from heroin-related causes than from gun homicides,” Lyons-Burney said.
In Missouri, heroin and opioid overdose deaths nearly doubled in 2016 and fentanyl – a fast-acting narcotic and sedative that is sometimes abused for its heroin-like effect – deaths have increased by 200 percent. One out over every 66 deaths were due to an opioid or heroin overdose, Lyons-Burney said during the presentation.
In Taney County, sixth- to 12th-grade students reportedly misusing prescription drugs was 2.4 percent in 2014, 8 percent in 2016 and 2018.
“Youth are 14.2 times more likely to use heroin if they have ever misused prescription medications in their lifetime,” Lyons-Burney said while quoting Missouri Student Survey.
In 2017, the Branson Police Department handled 20 overdose calls – 10 opiate and four unknown substances – and two overdose deaths – one from an opiate and one from an unknown substance. Last year, the Taney County Ambulance District administered naloxone, or Narcan, which helps reverse an overdose by blocking the brain’s opioid receptors, to 123 patients. From Jan. 1 to May 31, 42 patients received Narcan, Lyons-Burney said.
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, more than 70 percent of those who abuse illicit drugs in the United States are employed.
Signs of workplace drug abuse:
–Behave differently from their coworkers
–Avoid coworkers and friends or irrationally blame them for personal mistakes
–Openly talking about money problems
–Decline in personal appearance or hygiene
–Complaints of failing relationships at home
–Taking time off for vague illnesses or family problems
Physical signs of opioid – like hydrocodone, oxycodone, heroin – overdose are a slowed heart rate and respiratory rate, muscle weakness and fatigue. Physical signs of benzodiazepines – like diazepam or alprazolam – overdose are drowsiness, fainting, loss of balance and muscle weakness.
Lyons-Burney said substance abuse in the workplace can lead to lowered productivity – due to withdrawal symptoms affecting job performance, physical injuries, difficulty focusing or concentrating, needless risk-taking behaviors and mental stress affecting coworkers.
Across the nation, prescription drug abuse leads to $42 billion lost in workplace productivity a year, Lyons-Burney said.
“From 2002 to 2004, full-time workers aged 18-64 who reported current illicit drug use were more than twice as likely to report that they had worked for three or more employers in the past year. Full-time workers who were current drug users were twice as likely to skip one or more days of work in the past month,” Lyons-Burney said while quoting the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “One in five people in the United States abuse prescription medications, many of whom make up our nation’s workforce.”
According to Science Daily, the “opioid epidemic” is costing the United States an estimated $78.5 billion as of 2016. In 2011, health care related costs were about $25 billion, and costs to the criminal justice system was estimated at $5.1 billion, according to the Journal of Pain Medicine.
Each substance abusing employee costs his or her employer $7,000 per year, according to the Small Business Administration.
There are at least five workplace elements to a drug-free workplace, Lyons-Burney said. They are a legally sound, written policy and program, employee education, supervisor training, employee assistance plan and alcohol and drug testing.
Supervisors should learn how to recognize, document, and confront a possible substance abuse problem, understand the company’s policy and procedure, learn how to refer an employee to available resources and/or to testing and learn how to appropriately assist in the process when an employee returns to duty, Lyons-Burney said. Employee assistance programs help identify a plan of action and applicable resources for employees who seek help on their own, are referred by management or have a positive alcohol or drug test. Drug testing is also a component of a successful drug-free workplace program.
There are webinars and programs available for employees, including A Dose of Reality, Empowered Employees (Generation Rx programs), A Workplace Wellness Approach for Prescription Misuse Prevention (SAMHSA), Drug Free Workplace and Workforce Initiatives (Working Partners) and Start Talking! (Kasich Administration).
For information on the Stone and Taney County Substance Abuse Initiative, search Drug Free Ozarks on Facebook or visit drugfreeozarks.org.