Drugs are all around us

Whether you like to recognize it not, there’s a possibility that one of your co-workers has a problem with drugs.

And that, according to Don Ogden, can create problems in society in general and in the work place specifically.

“About 20 percent of any work force abuses a mood-altering chemical, and at least 10 percent is addicted,” Ogden said on July 19 while speaking at the monthly meeting of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce’s Safety Council.

And if that’s not enough of a wake-up call, he added that those numbers give the United States the highest abuse rate of any industrial country.

Ogden knows what he’s talking about. He’s the director of services for behavioral medicine at Trinity Health System. That, and his more than 30 years of experience in substance-abuse counseling, made him the right person to deliver a presentation on drug-free work places.

He told the 100-or-so representatives of local businesses who had gathered at Hellenic Hall inside Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church that it’s not always easy to identify persons who might be using mood-altering substances. His message was a good fit for a safety council presentation.

Held monthly, the meetings are designed to offer local businesses information about occupational safety and health, workers’ compensation and risk management and other information that pertains to making work places safe.

“Now, the perception is that people who use drugs illegally don’t have jobs,” he said. “But, 79 percent of all drug users are employed, and 90 percent of alcoholics are employed.”

It adds up to big costs for businesses, he said — in fact, the annual number is $275 billion, which includes the medical expenses, lost productivity and theft. Even more sobering — 40 percent of industrial fatalities can be traced to either drug or alcohol use. Ogden added that substance abusers are six times more likely to file workers’ compensation claims and three times more likely to be late for work.

When you put all of those numbers together, Ogden said, it becomes clear why businesses have become more interested in identifying workers who have a substance abuse problem. Once identified, an employer can other help, discipline the worker or replace them. Replacement, he said, carries its own costs, which total between 25 percent to 200 percent of the annual compensation that had been given to the employee. Other problems include increased overtime costs and morale problems.

“Now, you have to have an employee or group of employees to do the work that had been done by the employee you let go,” Ogden said.

His talk was especially important for business owners in our region, which has been hard hit by the nation’s opioid epidemic.

“Opioids are a depressant, and they are being combined with other kinds of depressants,” Ogden said.

He added that the type of drugs that are being abused change over a period of time, and each change comes with its own set of problems.

“A while back, stimulants were epidemic — cocaine and crack cocaine,” he said. “Now its heroin and other opioids. And, if that cycle continues, it wouldn’t be surprising if we had an epidemic of stimulants again.”

Work place drug programs are important for many reasons, he explained, among the biggest being because an employer values the health and safety of his or her employees. Other reasons include a concern about a higher risk of injury on the job and higher insurance costs. A program can increase productivity and improve morale, he added.

There are downsides, he said, including employees who might think that testing that is part of a program is intrusive and an invasion of privacy.

Plus, Ogden emphasized, the program has to apply to every employee, from the CEO on down.

“Remember, people don’t check their substance abuse problems at the door when they come in to work,” Ogden said. “They might use before work, during work and after work.”

A sad commentary, but the reality of the world we live in.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)