As Canadians adjust to life in the COVID-19 pandemic, many British Columbians are fighting another health crisis. The opioid crisis continues to ravage the province as deadly drug overdoses reach record levels. A heartbreaking 1,068 deaths were recorded in the first eight months of 2020, in a year that has also included the highest single month totals in BC’s history.
Although measures to physically distance and prevent the spread of COVID-19 have exacerbated the problem, the province has struggled for years to find solutions for addiction. With more British Columbians than ever using and suffering alone, we need to increase our collective awareness of the addictions crisis to flatten the curve of a disease that is resulting in more than 100 preventable deaths every month.
Addiction in safety-sensitive workplaces
Addiction exists everywhere – in our families, friend groups and workplaces – but few organizations are properly equipped to confront it.
In safety-sensitive workplaces, where addiction exponentially increases the likelihood of a fatal accident, a staggering 20% of workers admit to using substances on the job. However, nearly 66% say that they don’t have access to resources. One of the many questions we should be asking is how we can set-up high-risk, safety-sensitive workplaces to better support workers struggling with addiction.
Creating a safe space
For those living with a substance use disorder, addiction is with them everywhere they go – that includes on the job. Often, these workplace environments hold deeply rooted, individual and organizational cultures and attitudes that make it hard for workers to speak up.
Educating leaders and providing them with the necessary knowledge and training will go a long way towards effectively dealing with addiction in the workplace. By creating a safe space where employees can openly express their challenges without fear of reprimand, we inevitably make it easier for people to come forward.
Recognizing the signs
The onus should not be entirely on workers to disclose their struggles. We need to teach and support managers about not only addiction but, equally importantly, recovery. Educate them to recognize the early warning signs, evident behaviours and what they can do about them when they arise. More often than not, those willing to support with compassion and empathy simply don’t know where to start.
Recovery services and support
Addiction support in the workplace needs to go beyond your average extended health plan. Workplaces need policies that include resources and how to access them. Providing these services alongside strong disability management (just as we do for any other disease or disability) and insurance that supports effective evidence-based treatment and return to work planning are vital. For employees, a well-designed, monitored return to work strategy is often the difference between success and failure for people following after drug and alcohol treatment.
Partners in workplace intervention and risk reduction
We know that workers and employers in safety-sensitive environments and safety-critical positions face unique challenges when it comes to dealing with substance use disorder. Established in 2006, Cedars was formed to help employers, unions and workplace personnel treat and navigate these challenges. A nationally recognized and accredited centre of excellence for the treatment of addiction and process disorders, we offer evidence-based treatment that works in concert with employers to provide inclusive and individualized recovery solutions and treatment planning.
By working with occupational addiction medicine physicians and qualified care providers to create a cultural shift and provide essential resources, organizations can not only help employees get back to work safely – they can help save lives.