There’s a lot of talk online, on television, on radio and on mobile phones about the latest and greatest sexual harassment or sexual abuse story. Like many other thousands of women, I have stories to tell. I guess that’s why they call it MeToo#. But there’s a story that I feel hasn’t quite been told. Drug abuse at work costs employers and employees on many levels and although it can adversely affect businesses in their reputation, company brand, employee morale, productivity and bottom line, sexual misconduct is often a byproduct of other addictive behavior.

Owner of the Scottsdale Recovery Center, Chris Cohn, was a guest on a podcast live in Los Angeles, California, broadcasting worldwide. The show entitled, Work Comp Matters covers news related to employees, human resources, owners, insurance companies and attorneys on issues in the workplace. This specific program focused around the subject of addiction, how to identify it and where to go for help. But there were some unexpected twists. We talked about substance abuse but there was the question of sexual addiction and whether it really is a disease or an excuse for bad behavior?

Why Human Resources Will Beg You to Get Help

According to an article in the insurancejournal.com, an annual survey conducted by CompPharma showed that “workers’ compensation payers saw an average 11 percent reduction in their pharmacy spend in 2016, driven by a 13.3 percent reduction in opioid cost.” This may appear to be good news – good news for insurance companies and businesses. Unfortunately, this survey merely scratches the surface. There’s a larger reason why the pharmacy spend has lessened in five of the last seven years. It’s called opioid epidemic.

Addiction on the Job Is Layered in Secrecy

Once the federal government cracked down on the overprescribing of opioid pills, patients were forced to either:

  1. Undergo a cold-turkey withdrawal process which is very painful and dangerous.
  2. Seek drug rehab and recovery.
  3. Find alternative opioids such as painkillers on the black market or heroin.

All three of the above alternatives would lessen the legal pharmacy cost to workers’ compensation payers. Because of the painful withdrawal process, misinformation about options available for drug treatment, and the readily available illicit drugs on the street, many prescription opioid addicts found themselves choosing option number three.

Now consider what can happen to you at your place of work. Would you even know if a coworker was under a doctor’s care for some realm of pain management? No, not unless you were told. And when their prescription refill was denied and they began to use synthetic opioids or heroin you wouldn’t know that either. Until something happens on the job. Even then, would you know?

Perhaps you are that person, who needs to numb the pain. If the medical community isn’t there to support your wellbeing in the manner you’ve grown accustomed to, what alternatives really exist? You most certainly won’t admit your problem to a coworker or your supervisor. Considering yourself a functioning alcohol or addict is common but the secret can only be kept quiet for so long.

The Risks to the Employer

During the overuse of drugs or alcohol, personal inhibitions disappear. Risky behaviors come to fruition including sexual promiscuity. Let’s put two and two together. If sexual desire heightens after drug or alcohol intake, then it would stand to reason that there’s an increased risk of sexual misconduct on the job if drug use is in effect before or during work hours. If you are the victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault by a coworker, the employer bears some liability too.

unwanted touching by coworkerTrauma Plays a Part in Addiction and Sexual Harassment at Work

For the person with an addiction problem, some life event brought about trauma that engaged a perceived need for substance use. It could have been a physical illness, surgery or auto accident. There could be a mental illness. An unexpected, emotionally, painful situation may have happened. Any of these scenarios could be the catalyst to addiction.

In cases of sexual harassment or sexual assault, the person receiving the unwanted advances by another will experience trauma. This is something I know all too well. During the same interview with Chris Cohn of Scottsdale Recovery Center and Steve Appell of Work Comp Matters (mentioned earlier in this article) the subject poignantly came up and was directed at me. Here’s how the exchange took place

How a victim of sexual harassment responds depends on many variables:

  • Is the victim also under the influence
  • Are there past incidences of sexual assault
  • Is there a genuine support system (human resources erring on the victim not the company)
  • Is it safe to report the incident (job security, industry backlash)

Company or industry culture regarding sexual behavior, alcohol and drug use, has been under scrutiny recently. What may be unacceptable practices at work today were quietly accepted as business-standard decades earlier. But are business owners in denial about these problems and their associated risks?

The National Safety Council did a survey in 2017 searching for employer-perception of the prescription drug problem and its impact on their business. Here’s what it learned:

  • 39% of employers think Rx drug use risks safety
  • 24% feel Rx drug use is an issue
  • 71% have had an issue with on the job Rx use

Is It Right for Insurance Companies to Bear the Brunt of the Cost

The Workers Compensation Research Institute conducted a study measuring the rate of worker comp claims filed involving opioid prescriptions. Only 26 states were involved, those that had the higher rates worker comp claims within the United States. Arizona did not place within the study, as our state laws tend to favor the employer vs. employee in such claims compared to other states.

After our interview on the podcast and off-air conversations, it was obvious that there still remains confusion and ambiguity about who holds the blame when on-the-job accidents occur with the presence of drug or alcohol use. Did someone say OSHA?

What Businesses Don’t Know Could Hurt Them

Corporate America understands the importance of having documentation to cover their a**. This would normally include an employee handbook that, among other things, sets the guidelines for proper behavior to include prohibiting substance use. In addition, there is usually a sexual harassment policy in place. However, most businesses in this country are considered small businesses and many do not have such policies.

Just one misstep on a safety guideline can cause injury or death to employees, damage to the business facility (intellectual and personal), and associated lawsuits to come. OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can help of the U.S. Department of Labor can help. If you don’t have a drug, sexual harassment or a workplace violence policy in place, you can be proactive. Establish them and integrate their policies, procedures and best practices into your business.

Don’t Let Addiction Affect the Livelihood of Your Business and Its People

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Arizona Addiction Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2007.  Call  888-512-1705.

Melanie SternAuthored by Melanie Stern, Content Director for Scottsdale Recovery Center, Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers and Cohn Media, LLC. Writer and broadcaster covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best.

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