British Science Week is a good week to look at the science of Toxicology. Toxicology is the branch of science that relates to poisons.
Many ancient texts were written about plant toxins and the use of poisons, but it wasn’t until the early 19th century that the first formal treatise of toxicology was compiled by Mathieu Orfila, who is considered the father of modern toxicology.
The field of Analytical Toxicology came to prominence particularly when identifying the use of poisons in murder cases. British Chemist James Marsh developed a test for arsenic, which Orfila used to demonstrate arsenic poisoning in the 1840 LaFarge poisoning case . This was instrumental in establishing the field of Forensic Toxicology. In 1850 Jean Stas used analytical techniques to demonstrate that nicotine was used as a poison in the case of a Belgian Count convicted of murder.
The rapid drug screening tests and highly complex High Resolution Accurate Mass Spectrometry techniques of today would be unrecognisable to the scientists of Orfila’s time, but the changing world of drug use and abuse mean that new techniques and technologies will continue to be needed.
As the month of love ends, it’s a good time to think about the effects that recreational drugs have on the heart.
We tend to focus more often on the immediate effects of recreational drug use and the risks that those who are impaired by drugs pose in their different places of work. It isn’t very often that awareness is raised of the longer-term effects.
Cocaine use can constrict blood vessels, which can cause immediate chest pain and even heart attacks soon after the cocaine has been used. Regular use can have more long-term effects. Research¹ has shown that even in individuals who consider themselves ‘social’ cocaine users (at least once a month for the last year) long term effects on their hearts were seen.
The long-term effects of cocaine on the heart are stiffening of the arteries, thicker heart muscle walls and an irregular heart rhythm. All three of these effects are associated with significant risk of heart attack and/or strokes.
Where employers are actively raising awareness to the immediate health and safety risks associated with drug and alcohol use to their employees, the long-term effects should also be communicated to promote ongoing employee wellbeing.
Many of us have been struggling of late with coughs and colds, and some even with flu. We are fortunate that we have access to a wide range of over-the-counter preparations to help alleviate the symptoms caused by these viral infections.
Whilst they can help us to continue working by relieving the debilitating symptoms, some medication may have an effect on our ability to work safely. This is particularly true of any painkillers or anti-inflammatory medication that is mixed with opiates and some decongestant medication.
There are a few ways in which you can minimize the risks associated with over-the-counter medication in your workplace.
Drug and Alcohol Policy
You can make sure that your drug and alcohol policy makes it clear what employees should do if they are taking potentially impairing medication, and what actions you as employers should then take to deal with them whilst they are taking the medication.
Educate your employees in what they need to do when being prescribed medication, or when buying over-the-counter medication. Make sure they understand that they need to make their GP or pharmacist aware of what they do for a living, and ask them if the medication has the potential to cause impairment.
Medication Checking Service
You can sign up for a medication checking service, where your managers and supervisors can call in and ask for advice on the potential that any medication, or combination of medication will have for impairment, and what options there are to mitigate against that potential impairment.
The impact of medication is something that should be considered all year, but may well be greater at this time of year, as well as the summer months when hay fever season kicks in.
As we work to support individuals in the Family Court system who have alcohol dependence issues, it’s interesting to read several recent articles about the challenges those with alcohol dependence face at Christmas.
Those with an alcohol dependence report on how their excessive alcohol use is less noticeable amongst friends during the festive period, They also mention that drinking and getting drunk seems to be endemic at Christmas, both in the marketing of alcoholic drinks and the prevalence in television programmes. This makes it much more of a challenge in social situations than at other times of the year.
It is clear from these articles that each individual with a dependence problem is affected in different ways during the festive period. Some report that that there is a general acceptance of those who do not drink during social events, whilst others will not attend due to the difficulties they face.
There is a suggestion that alcoholic drink advertising should be regulated in a similar way to tobacco so that it is not as prevalent and overt at this time of year.
Those who are successfully remaining sober also report on how much more they appreciate Christmas when sober, and can focus more on the important aspects of the holiday period like spending time with family and friends.
With the cost of replacing a member of staff in the region of £30,000, many employers see that ensuring employee wellbeing is a worthwhile area in which to invest. This helps to enhance employee retention and create a resilient workforce.
A drug and alcohol policy that has a supportive approach to drug and alcohol issues is one of the tools an employer can use to enhance employee wellbeing. A drug and alcohol policy is far more than just a document that sets out what drug testing will happen. It sets the company culture and attitude to the risks associated with drug and alcohol use. The policy should contain a commitment to provide drug and alcohol awareness to all employees, helping them to understand the impact that drug use can have on them and their families as well as the risks it brings to their workplace and colleagues.
The policy should also encourage employees who have a drug and alcohol misuse problem to come forward and declare it. The support that will then be provided for those individuals will be outlined in the policy.
Many organisations’ approach to a positive drug test is to dismiss the individual, unless there are strong mitigating factors. This approach would then result in the need to replace that individual and incur the cost of that replacement process. A more supportive and cost effective approach may be to look for ways to rehabilitate that individual, so that the skills they bring to the organisation are not lost. This approach will have to include consequences of any relapse, but it is often not even considered by many employers.