Prescription Drug Abuse a Significant Problem in Manufacturing

Manufacturing the worst of all industries with 6.5 percent of workers engaging in opioid abuse.

Recently, a report from the commercial and industrial insurer CNA, on opioid use in manufacturing crossed my desk, a report that needs to be discussed. Put simply, we have a drug use problem in manufacturing, particularly opioids.

When prescribed by a practicing physician, opioids are typically used to relieve pain. Typical prescriptions use Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Morphine and Codeine in medications like Vicodin, Oxycontin and Percocet. CNA’s research shows that typical patients abusing opioids have chronic pain from three or more injuries in the body.

Prescription opioid abuse is at epidemic proportions in the United States. Since 1990, drug overdose related deaths have tripled. Sales of prescription pain killers have also tripled since 1999. Approximately 2.4 million Americans use prescription drugs without valid prescriptions, with an average of 6,600 new users per day in 2010, according to the research.

CNA’s data reveals that 6.5 percent of manufacturing workers engage in illegal drug use and 9.5 percent take part in heavy alcohol abuse. Between 2009 and 2013, the spending on prescription opioids in the manufacturing industry was higher than any other CNA insured industrial sector.

So where are these drugs coming from? Most abused drugs are provided by legitimate physicians. From there, the opioids are given to coworkers or sold illicitly.

Manufacturers can do several things to fight back against drug abuse. Employers need to educate staff about responsible drug use and the potency of the drugs they are using. How they work and interact with other drugs is also key information, but most importantly employees need to know how addictive opioid drugs can be if abused.

Employees must also be made aware of “doctor shopping,” manipulating physicians and other caregivers by seeing more than one simultaneously, without either knowing about the other. Other drug-seeking behaviours also need to be discussed so employees can learn to identify the signs in their coworkers.

Injured employees who must resort to prescription opioids need strong social support networks and immediate supervisors need to play a significant part. Research shows support networks are helpful in combating both drug and alcohol problems.

Well managed programs result in fewer lost days and decreased wage-loss for employees, with greater overall morale. Once an employer has done what they can on the prevention side, it’s time to recommend treatment options if necessary. It is important that manufacturers show their employees their support and make it clear that not only is treatment for abuse issues available, but how they can receive it.

It’s tough enough to compete in a global manufacturing environment without losing good people to painkiller abuse. Part of the problem is the testosterone driven, get-it-done attitude that ironically creates creative, productive manufacturing environments. Making sure that production pressures don’t create human tragedies on the shop floor takes prevention and an understanding of the nature of opioid abuse. We need all hands on deck… healthy hands, to succeed.

Written by

James Anderton

Jim Anderton is the Director of Content for Mr. Anderton was formerly editor of Canadian Metalworking Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of print and on-line publications, including Design Engineering, Canadian Plastics, Service Station and Garage Management, Autovision, and the National Post. He also brings prior industry experience in quality and part design for a Tier One automotive supplier.