An estimated 1.5 million people are addicted to prescription and over-the-counter drugs in the UK.
Many people turn to drugs because of the stress of work, or to painkillers because of musculoskeletal problems caused by work.
Drugs have no place in the workplace, unless required for a medical condition, however employers should not interfere in a person’s private life unless it impacts on their work.
14,053 hospital admissions in 2017, there were 14,053 hospital admissions, across England, tied to illicit drug use.
2,593 deaths There were 2,593 deaths in 2016, across England and Wales, due to drug use.
It is an employer's legal duty to protect employees' health, safety and welfare. Some employees may have to take drugs or medication for health reasons.
Employees on prescribed medication may experience a change in behaviour that could be disruptive or decrease workers productivity. This includes fatigue, irritability and restlessness.
The risk of the employee's medication must be evaluated if their medical condition may pose danger to themselves or others. Your employees have an obligation to take reasonable care of themselves and others who could be affected by what they do at work.
Consider these warning signs, which could indicate drug misuse:
- unexplained or frequent absences
- a change in behaviour
- unexplained dips in productivity
- more accidents or near-misses
- performance or conduct issues
- These can also be signs of other things, like stress or illness.
Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction in the UK
Although many fear their loved ones may be abusing or addicted to illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine and marijuana, prescription drugs are more frequently abused in the UK.
Prescription opioids and benzodiazepines are frequently abused and highly addictive. In many cases the individuals addiction will develop when they are prescribed these for pain or mental health conditions.
Opioids addiction in the UK
Tradamol is the most commonly prescribed opioid. Although it doesn't carry the stigma of more powerful opioids like morphine it is still a great deal stronger than over-the-counter pain relief.
The addictiveness of Tradamol makes it hard to realize a dependency is forming and any long-term use of Tradamol, even when taken as prescribed, can lead to dependency and eventually addiction.
Tradamol has been so frequently prescribed that it is a common addiction in the UK. This drug has been tied to a rising number of deaths in England, 240 deaths in 2014 and is responsible for 40% of drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland.
Side effects of Tradamol:
- lack of energy and coordination
- dry mouth
- fast heart rate
- high blood pressure
- higher body temperature
- reflexes that are stronger than normal
- nausea and vomiting
- slowed breathing rate
- very shallow breathing
- fainting, dizziness, or confusion
Withdrawal symptoms of Tradamol:
- feeling irritable, anxious, or restless
- trouble sleeping
- increased blood pressure
- fast breathing rate
- fast heart rate
- dilated (large) pupils
- teary eyes
- runny nose
- nausea, vomiting, and a loss of appetite
- diarrhoea and stomach cramps
Benzodiazepine Addiction in the UK
Benzodiazepines (benzos) are often prescribed to help with anxiety and seizures.
The most popular benzodiazepine in the UK is Xanax.
Xanax accounted for 50,000 trades on one of the largest dark web marketplaces. One "trade" can include thousands of pills. And this number doesn't account for the number of people who get the drug legally, with a prescription, then sell it to others looking to abuse it.
Benzo addiction in the UK often starts as a prescription. Benzos are so potent that by even taking it as it were prescribed can lead to a dependency. Once the prescription ends (usually no longer than 10 days), many are pushed to continue taking it as they have developed an addiction.
Xanax, the brand name for alprazolam, can be obtained only on a private prescription in the UK, but pills can easily be bought from street dealers, online pharmacies or the dark web for as little as £1 each. The drug is highly addictive and withdrawal symptoms include blurred vision, muscle pain and seizures.
Side effects of Xanax:
- Sleep problems (insomnia)
- Memory problems
- Poor balance or co-ordination
- Slurred speech
- Trouble concentrating
- Upset stomach
- Blurred vision
- Appetite or weight changes
- Swelling in your hands or feet
- Muscle weakness
- Dry mouth
- Stuffy nose
- Increased sweating
Illicit Drug Addiction in the UK
While many have developed an addiction in the UK to legal drugs, illicit drug use is also on the rise.
Cannabis, the most abused substance after alcohol, is used by more than two million people.
Cocaine, despite being used by less than a million users, is becoming more accessible, making abuse and addiction more commonplace. Meanwhile, without enough resources, rehabilitation clinics can become overstretched, overused, and unable to help everyone who comes through.
Employers have to have consent if they want to test for drugs. Usually, this is when they have a full contractual health and safety policy, which should be in the contract or staff handbook.
limit testing to employees that need to be tested ensure the tests are random, not single out particular employees for testing unless this is justified by the nature of their jobs
Workers can’t be made to take a drugs test but if they refuse when the employer has good grounds for testing, they may face disciplinary action.