OPIOIDS IN THE WORKPLACE
Gregory Grey started using drugs as a teen.
In candid remarks as a panelist at a program on drug use in the workplace, hosted by the East Penn Chamber of Commerce, Western Lehigh Chamber of Commerce and the 21st Century Chamber Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce at Brookside Country Club, Lower Macungie Township, Jan. 18, Grey talked about drugs and how using drugs gave him a confidence he lacked.
Grey now describes himself as in long term recovery.
“I always felt different than other kids,” he replied to questions from an audience member. “Drugs helped me cope with that.”
“It wasn’t until I couldn’t hide it anymore,” when he knew he needed help, he said.
Grey joined panelists from local recovery facilities, law enforcement and first responder organizations to talk about the presence of opioids and heroin in local communties, strategies to address drug use, especially in the workplace, and the prevalance of drugs.
Noting statistics show a particular rise in the number of middle age users, J. Layne Turner, of the Lehigh County Drug and Alcohol Administration, spoke about how the stereotypical image of the drug user is changing.
Turner said he has seen drug overdose survivors as young as 11. Users, on average, are between 13- and 68-years-old and predominately white. Working people, professional people, students and others are among those who use drugs.
Molly Stanton, program manager of Livengrin Foundation for Addiction Recovery, of Allentown, added health care professionals such as nurses, pharmacists and physicians also are among the statistics but also may be among those who participate in an active recovery under threat of loss of license or employment.
Drug overdose kits are in schools and workplaces. Stephen Hall, education director for Cetronia Ambulance, noted drug overdose kits also are on ambulances and first responders are trained in use of the kits.
Media coverage has called attention to much of the current drug crisis growing from use and misuse of prescription pain medications. When those drugs became too expensive to use, street drugs offered a cheaper high for many, explained Joseph Stauffer, chief deputy district attorney, Lehigh County. Plus, street drugs are more plentiful, easier to create and readily available.
For example, Stauffer explained, one gram of heroin can be cut and repackaged into 50 packets of heroin available for $10 a bag versus prescription drugs costing per pill multiple times the price of a packet.
“We see people making thousands of dollars a day on the street,” Stauffer told chamber members.
Meanwhile, with drugs seemingly everywhere, drug problems are leaking into the workplace. Employers and managers need to be proactive about strategies to help employees and their families; managers and coworkers need to be educated to recognize signs and symptoms and employees need to be proactive as well. For example, if an opioid is prescribed, employees should educate themselves about side effects, talk with prescribing doctors about the type of work they do and find out whether it is safe to do work tasks while taking a medication.
Employees also should be encouraged to seek help for addiction issues. Employers can refer employees for help, Turner said.
Tools such as random drug testing, education and communication about such topics are valuable in the workplace.
And it is essential to have a drug policy in place before it is needed.
“Go back to your offices. Make sure you have a very clear policy right off the bat,” Larry Wiersch, chief executive officer, Cetronia Ambulance Corps, and moderator of the panel, said to close the event.
White Deer Run Treatment Network sponsored the program.