There is an old saying that says, “Ignorance is bliss,” which goes along with the saying, “What you don’t know, can’t hurt you.” Neither saying applies when talking about the use of drugs and alcohol in the workplace. Ignorance can lead to worker injuries and death, and not understanding the pervasiveness of drugs in society can lead to complacency. Each year new illicit drugs emerge or people abuse legal drugs to a greater extent, and employers must increase their efforts to maintain drug and alcohol free workplaces. Understanding the emerging drug trends can help employers design effective drug and alcohol policies and random testing programs.
The first thing that should be made clear is that drug use is certainly not just an “Australian problem.” Drugs pervade society around the world. A recent report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction reported that at least 85 million European adults have used illicit drugs. This represents a staggering one-fourth of Europe’s adult population. There were 14.5 million who used cocaine; 11.4 million who used ecstasy; 12.7 million who tried amphetamines; and 77 million who used cannabis.1 Sadly, these are impressive numbers, and it is likely they will continue to grow even as the particular type of drugs used shift.
Glimpse Into the Future
Government agencies and nonprofits spend a lot of time and effort studying trends related to drugs and drug dependency. One of the things they do annually is try to detect emerging trends in drugs to design better government and treatment responses. This also gives employers a glimpse of the future, as well, in terms of the drugs employees are likely to use should any choose to do so. In 2012, the most recent statistics, there was a growing global trend in the seizure of psychoactive drugs like ‘Kronic’ and other synthetic cannabinoids. Whilst the cocaine market seemed to be easing, the ecstasy market was expanding. In addition, there was increasing use of prescription drugs for non-medical purposes.2
The drug use trends reported as of the end of 2012 in Australia also showed increasing use of prescription drugs for non-medical purposes and an increase in cannabis use. There has been an increase in cocaine use but a significant decline in the use of ecstasy. Employers should take note there has been an increase in the number of people from older age groups who have presented to area hospitals for problems arising from cannabis use. This proves yet again that drug users do not fit any particular profile. The greatest numbers of hospital presentations were related to the use of opioids, followed by problems related to meth/amphetamines.3
Drug use in the workplace is a matter of safety and health, but employers must look outside the business to understand context. Workplaces are set in a larger society where drug trends influence the likelihood and type of drug use by employees. Understanding the trends can help employers keep a watchful out for signs of particular drugs or for the expression of typical symptoms of drugs. Ultimately, the goal is to maintain a safe workplace and help workers enjoy healthy, productive lives. Random drug and alcohol testing is just one strategy for success.
Mediscreen (mediscreen.net.au) can be instrumental in helping employers across Australia manage a zero tolerance workplace. The drug and alcohol sample collection and screening services company offers state-of-the-art services and works closely with a variety of employers to ensure quality programs are in place and well managed.
- EMCDDA. (2013). European Drug Report – Trends and developments 2013. Retrieved from European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, p. 29.
- Amanda Roxurgh, Alison Ritter, Tim Slade, Lucy Burns. (2013). Trends in Drug Use and Related Harms in Australia, 2001 to 2013. Retrieved January 04, 2014, from University of New South Wales: http://bit.ly/1jjQZNK