National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week: Drug Abuse


The gateway

Taking a friend or family member’s prescription painkiller once or twice may seem innocent, but the ramifications could be more severe than you think. Some take painkillers for a quick high, thinking it is safer than taking an illicit drug such as ecstasy. What many people don’t realize, however, is opiates, drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin, are highly addictive and considered gateway drugs, often leading to the use of heroin and other illicit drugs.

The impact of drug abuse

The impact of drug addiction on school, work and life in general is typically devastating, not only for those addicted, but for their friends, family and coworkers. Employees struggling with drug addiction are more likely to cause work-related accidents and often suffer from decreased productivity and absenteeism. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc. (NCADD), 70% of the estimated 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed and cost employers $81 billion annually. Drug testing programs can serve as a deterrent and help avoid the increased health plan costs associated with addiction.

What can be done to reduce the risk of abuse?

In combination with a drug testing program, employers can educate the workforce on appropriate use, storage and disposal of medications of abuse. Employees should be reminded to take only medications that are prescribed to them in the proper dosage and specified time, along with education on risks associated with long-term use.

Proper storage and disposal of prescription painkillers is important in reducing the risk of abuse. Bathroom and kitchen cabinets are among the most common places abusers get medications. Medications should be stored in a locked cabinet or where they are not easily accessible and discarded once the duration of treatment is complete. Disposal instructions included with medications should be followed. Some can be disposed of by flushing down the toilet while others should be disposed of in other ways to avoid potential hazards. Some communities have disposal programs and details can be distributed to the workforce.

Behavioral Health Systems offers EAP and mental health and substance abuse benefits administration to companies across the U.S. Safety First, a division of Behavioral Health Systems, offers comprehensive drug testing programs to employers of all sizes. BHS actively advises our client companies on drug abuse trends and effective substance abuse policies in the workplace.