Businesses Urged to Establish Drug-Free Policies

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Take a moment to consider these statistics:

  • Four of every five people who abuse heroin today started their addiction by taking pain pills.
  • Each day in Ohio, eight people die of an opioid overdose. In 2014, the Buckeye State led the nation in the number of recorded opioid-related deaths – 2,100.
  • In Trumbull County alone, 54 died of an opioid overdose during 2014, 82 in 2015, and more than 100 last year.

And the death toll continues to rise, warns Ruth Bowdish, who Wednesday presented in stark terms the effects that drug addiction has on families, companies and communities. “As employers, you are in a unique position,” she told some 200 at who represented local businesses during the monthly meeting of Mahoning Valley Safety Council at the Maronite Center. “You literally have the ability to save a life.”

Bowdish, a counselor for On Demand Drug Testing and Work Solutions, delivered a straightforward talk that urged employers and managers not to ignore the perils of addiction and address it head-on: “When we talk about addiction, it reverberates through their family and everybody else in the community.”

Establishing a clear, well-defined drug-free policy at one’s company is critical as drug abuse approaches epidemic proportions in the region, Bowdish said. “We have at least three people who are actively in treatment because they failed a drug screening at their employer,” she said.

While addicts are likely to lose their families, their houses and cars, she said, between 75% and 80% are gainfully employed and don’t lose their jobs. Enforcing a policy and urging treatment for addicts would not only save their lives, Bowdish said, but the terrible fate their families face as well.

“As employers, there has never been a time that has been more critical for you to have a drug-free policy than right now,” the counselor declared.

Society has adopted a more cavalier approach to drug abuse than three decades ago, she noted. Every night, television viewers are bombarded with advertisements that hawk the latest wonder drug for pain, high cholesterol and a host of other maladies, while social media have the power to spread news of a new drug like wildfire.

“We wrote more prescription medication in the last eight years than we did total during the 20 years prior,” Bowdish said.

The drug addict of popular imagination has also changed, she said. No longer is there a single defining characteristic of what an addict is supposed to look like. While some clients display the telltale signs of years of drug abuse, others could be smartly dressed CEOs, attorneys or physicians.

Kathryn Klem, who works in human resources at Compass Family & Community Services, attended the luncheon and said that her organization sees firsthand the effects of drug abuse within the community.

“She really made it clear just how prevalent this problem is,” Klem said of Bowdish. Compass, through its Community Solutions program, provides educational, prevention, counseling and treatment services to families and individuals affected by drug and alcohol abuse.

“We’re doing a lot to help those in the community who really need it,” she said. “And you can see that it’s very much needed.”

Opioid addiction often begins as an addiction to prescription painkillers, Bowdish said. Although Gov. John Kasich‘s opiate action team took measures that helped reduce by 11% the number of opiate-based prescriptions written between the fourth quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2015, the number of heroin and pill overdoses rose 10% during the same period.

“They went to the streets,” she said of the addicts when they could no longer renew their prescriptions.

Not only has the opioid epidemic hit Ohio, Bowdish said, the state should brace for the fallout of H.B. 523, which approved marijuana use for medicinal purposes.

Marijuana use has risen across the country by 5.8% since 2007, from 14.5 million that year to 19.8 million today, Bowdish said. And, the drug is more potent than ever because it is now freshly grown in states that have approved the production and sale of marijuana for either medical or recreational use.

It might take two years, if not longer, for Ohio to clear all the red tape and remove the regulatory obstacles so medical production could begin, Bowdish said. However, there is a provision written into the bill that use of the drug – medical or otherwise – does not supersede a company drug policy.

“Companies that don’t have a drug policy should get one,” she advised. “You should know your rights as an employer.”


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