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.
The UK government’s Drug Strategy 2017 published in July includes an objective focused on supporting those with a drug dependence at all stages of their recovery. The strategy highlights the role that drug testing plays in supporting recovery, particularly in two areas. In the report, drug testing on arrest is indicated as a means of referring offenders into treatment at an early stage. The appropriate use of regular testing is also highlighted as one of the tools that treatment providers can use to help build recovery.
After reading the strategy document I was reflecting on my experience of how the drug testing we provide supports treatment professionals in their efforts to guide individuals through recovery, and what information it provides in addition to their own observations? I often find that a testing result that detects the presence of a drug or its metabolite (a positive result) provides the clearest information. It can support a treatment professional’s own observations of a client when they present, or can indicate that a client who is prescribed a substitution therapy is taking their prescribed medication.
I have, however seen instances where a positive result can have a more challenging impact on both the professional and their client. These are usually instances where a client was thought to be progressing well with their treatment and a positive result comes as a bit of a reality check to all involved. Quite often the question will come back, ‘are you sure it’s positive?’. A confirmed positive result cannot be argued with. The evidence stands up for itself. A drug or metabolite has been detected in the sample indicating recent use of the drug. A test result is limited to just being able to provide this information. It can’t help in answering the questions that inevitably follow between professional and client about the circumstances of the recent drug use, but I hope that it does go some way to opening an honest dialogue to deal with ongoing issues.
A surprising negative result often muddies the waters more than a positive result. It can be very frustrating when you are looking for evidence, but don’t find anything. A negative result is simply that – the lack of evidence of drug use. It doesn’t prove that drugs haven’t been taken (since you can’t prove a negative), but it doesn’t provide evidence that they have been taken. I’ve seen this happen where it seems clear that the client has been using drugs, but none have been detected in their sample, or they are undergoing supervised consumption at a local pharmacy of their substitution therapy medication. It is often in these situations where the drug treatment professional must rely on their own judgement, since there is no supporting information from the drug test result. Discussion with the drug worker about the testing strategy has been useful in these situations, and adjustments in the timing and frequency of testing has often helped in providing them with the positive result they need on future occasions to support their own conclusions.
Have you ever wondered how we can even test for drugs in hair? Here we explain how this is possible using some simple diagrams.
Hair growth explained
Hair is produced by follicles that lie below the skin and it takes about two weeks for the hair to emerge above the surface of the skin. On average head hair grows at approximately 1cm per month with the hair closest to the scalp being the most recent growth.
As you can see by looking at the last two diagrams there is a difference in the types of analysis that the laboratory can undertake to show that drugs have been used, if there are trends in use, or if there are even drugs in the hair at all.
If you have any questions about how drugs are incorporated into hair please contact our Technical Information Group via email@example.com