Prescription Drugs in the Workplace: Under the Influence of Prescription Drugs on the Job

Contributor:   Lexi de Coning, writer for Beachway Therapy

The Connection between Trauma and AlcoholismWhat comes to mind when you think about substance abuse? For many people, the thought of drug addiction evokes a stereotype: the strung-out junkie desperate for their next fix. But stereotypes are always an oversimplified and often damaging projection of what we think we know. In fact, you may be surprised to find out how extensive prescription drug abuse is in the United States:

After alcohol and marijuana, prescription medications are the third most abused substances in the US.

Roughly 48 million people have abused prescription drugs at some point in their lives. That’s about a fifth of the population.

In 2010, 2.4 million people used a prescription drug for non-medical purposes for the first time.

The reasons for these alarming statistics may be that prescription medications are relatively easy to obtain, and harmful stereotypes about drug addiction mean that prescription drugs are perceived as more socially acceptable and less dangerous than ‘hard drugs’. It is also not uncommon for people to begin using prescription drugs for legitimate medical reasons, but eventually become addicted and subsequently abuse their medications. While teenage girls and seniors are at significant risk, a large number of people abusing prescription drugs are ‘regular people’ who hold down jobs.

The Legality of Prescription Drugs in the Workplace

Close-up of businesswoman is typing on her keyboardAbuse of prescription drugs in the workplace can be incredibly detrimental to both the employee and the employer. This is especially relevant in industries where worker safety is an issue. Certain trades – maritime shipping, long-haul trucking, or construction, for instance – have strict standards regarding substance use, and drug test their employees regularly. However, what about other businesses where these safety concerns are not as prominent?

While more companies are performing drug screenings on their employees and potential employees, testing for prescription drugs may violate certain rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that employers “cannot ask prospective employees about prescription drugs, medical ailments or disabilities during an interview or before an official job offer has been made.” Nevertheless, in certain circumstances, employers can test for prescription drugs. Once the candidate has been hired, the employer may test for prescription drugs, but only if the screening is part of a medical examination that is job-related and necessary for safety-sensitive positions.

Under the Influence at Work

Smart agentUsing any kind of drug or intoxicant – even legal ones, like alcohol – can be incredibly dangerous at work. Prescription drugs are no different. Numerous painkillers, tranquilizers, and cough syrups can make you drowsy, impair your judgment, and affect your motor coordination. Even if you’re not working in a safety-sensitive industry, misuse of prescription medications can harm your co-workers, your customers, and yourself.

Unfortunately, a number of professions are prone to prescription drug abuse. The cyclical abuse of stimulants followed by tranquilizers is common in the entertainment industry. Similarly, sales people, clerical staff, and health care professionals may use stimulants to stay awake or alert during their work hours, necessitating the use of tranquilizers or depressants to ‘wind down’ again later.

Another at-risk group that may surprise you is the new generation of white collar workers. With the growing demand for excellent employees in the tech and online industries, many college students and workers are turning to ADHD drugs to get ahead at work. This kind of “neurological performance enhancement” is an increasing trend that needs to be addressed.

What Can Be Done?

workplaceThe first important step to tackling prescription drug abuse is to challenge stereotypes about addiction, and false perceptions about this kind of addiction in particular:

Prescription drugs are only safe when taken as indicated; when a person begins using prescription medications for other purposes, or in the wrong dosage, this can be dangerous and even fatal.

While certain age groups or professions may show increased abuse of these drugs, everyone is at risk. Even if you’re not intending to ‘get high’, misusing prescription drugs can lead to addiction.

You can also educate yourself:

  • Get to know the signs of prescription drug misuse, and be aware of family and friends who are taking medications. Prevent addiction before it begins by addressing the dangers.
  • If you need medication, speak to your doctor about alternatives to potentially addictive prescription drugs.

For employers, you can promote a safe and drug-free workplace:

  • Educate your staff about prescription drug abuse, as well as your company’s drug and drug screening policies. Supervisors and managers can be your “first line of defense”.
  • Remember to be empathetic, and to not stigmatize this kind of addiction. Let employees know who they can talk to about the issue, or who to notify if their doctor has prescribed certain medications.
  • Offer employer-sponsored treatment by partnering with your company’s health care insurance. Addressing the problem is far more beneficial to your business than ignoring it.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you witnessed the detrimental effects that addiction can have on a person’s employment?  What steps were taken by the employer or the employee in order to correct any wrong doings?

About Beachway Therapy Center

Beachway will do everything they can to help get you to achieve success with your recovery now and for the rest of your life. Feel free to learn about how Beachway can help you on your road to recovery by exploring their website, or take action and call our confidential support line, available 24 hours per day, at 855.337.5659

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions and co-occurring disorders.  These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.  We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors.  If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.  

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 9, 2015, 2015. Published on