Chamber hosts discussion on drugs in the workplace

By Ryan Carpe rcarpe@civitasmedia.com

February 2, 2014

DARKE COUNTY – The topic of drugs in the workplace took center stage at this year’s 7th annual Darke County Chamber of Commerce Groundhog Day Breakfast.

According to the members of the chamber, last Friday’s formal discussion was one of the first in the state to address the topic to its members and attendees.

First among the speakers was Adriane Scherrer of Enhancements to your Workplace, who has been working for more than 30 years making the world drug free. Scherrer began informing the audience of the real cost of drug abuse.

According to statistics from the Bureau of Workers Compensation, 70 percent of workplace accidents involve someone impaired by drugs or alcohol.

Approximately 20 to 30 percent of job applicants will fail a drug test, and the majority of failed cases are due to testing positive to marijuana, as stated in a document from Darke County Recovery Services. Of that number, roughly 2.5 percent to 4 percent of those employees are likely to be involved in an on the job accident. And they are five times more likely to file workers’ compensation claims.

Not only do injuries caused by accidents potentially remove an employee from work or cause damage to inventory, but also affect business. Drug abusers enable excess use of healthcare benefits, potential business thefts and eventually cause low morale that adds up to billions of dollars lost in the national productivity.

“Besides the bottom lines that get impacted by injury, there are many, many underlying costs to employers that come from people who will become dependent on their drug or alcohol of choice,” Scherrer said.

Eventually, alcohol and drug abuse can lead to negligent or even deceitful behavior in the workplace.

“People who are becoming dependent on alcohol or who are using illegal drugs are the best liars in the world,” said Scherrer. “They just look at us and tell us the most remarkable stories.”

Scherrer said that even though members of the audience may not be aware, each person likely knows someone affected by a drug or alcohol problem.

Scherrer also pointed to the vast majority of youth drug abuse involving pharmaceuticals at a certain point, with 47 percent acquiring the drugs from their family or friends who are giving it to them freely.

From there, abuse often takes the form of harder drugs like heroin and methamphetamines. Marijuana however is often an overlooked threat because of its lasting negative effects on the brain, said Scherrer.

So in order to improve your businesses’ bottom line, business owners need to let their current employees know they are dedicated to a drug and alcohol free workplace, said Scherrer. In an effort to address the emerging workforce, the current generation would benefit from education efforts for today’s youth in order to cultivate better employment opportunities tomorrow, she said.

Darke County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker spoke of the regional drug problem, which law enforcement has long-determined to be a growing and serious issue.

“What we’ve realized is that this was a huge problem, and its going to take the whole community and all the villages and cities, to take this head one, because we can’t do it by ourselves. That’s how significant this problem is,” he said.

Often the issue remains hidden, but Whittaker emphasized that no community remains immune because of size or demographics.

“Just because we’re Greenville or Darke County, or because some of you have never been exposed to it, the fact is that it is a problem in our community,” he confirmed. “I bet that everyone in this room does have a connection to someone that has a substance abuse problem.”

And while drug abuse has remained a concern of the Darke County Sheriff’s Office for many years, the recent trend of harder drugs has emerged as a deadlier threat.

“With my 28 years [of experience], we have not seen a drug killing people at the rate that its killing people in the last several years,” said Whittaker. “We went from prescription drugs and we’re starting to gravitate toward street drugs and heroin,” said Whittaker.

Whittaker pointed to statistics from the Darke County Coroner’s Office that indicated an increasing epidemic of accidental deaths due to drug overdoses, which unfortunately shows no signs of slowing.

“The point I’m making is that drug overdoses are killing people,” said Whittaker. “But what you’re not seeing is the amount of people that are on disability because of drug overdoses, especially with heroin and narcotics.”

And while the Darke County Sheriff’s Office is only able to send the current numbers of accidental deaths, the agency is aware of drug abuse’s impact on a much wider scale.

“What about the list of people that overdosed and are resuscitated. But we resuscitate them only to find out they have severe brain impairment, to the extent of disability. And a lot of these folks are young folks, and they’re going to be in a vegetative state, and they have to be taken care of in long-term facilities,” said Whittaker.

The cost of local drug abuse also carries into other areas, including our administrative and housing costs.

For instance, out of the 32 people incarcerated in the Darke County Jail as of Thursday, 60 percent were there because of drug charges or drug related crime. Twenty percent were in jail because of direct drug charges.

And in the last 10 years, the majority of all Darke County break-ins were drug related, added Whittaker.

Most of the Darke County Sheriff’s investigations indicate that drug abuse starts with marijuana, eventually moves onto prescription pills, and will then take a turn for the worse into harder narcotics such as heroin and methamphetamines.

“Every single person [that we’ve interviewed about drug abuse] says they’ve started with marijuana. The next step is that marijuana makes it OK to try prescription pills,” said Whittaker. “And once they overcome the stigma of sticking a needle in their arms, then the addiction has a hold.”

Whittaker stated that once hooked, heroin addiction is extremely difficult to break, with all other priorities falling to the wayside.

“The way I explain how difficult it is to stop heroin use, it would be like me coming over and asking you to stop breathing,” said Whittaker. “‘I want you to give me 15 minutes without breathing. Can you do that for me?’”

And because the habit remains a lifetime problem for many drug addicts, their numbers are growing.

“Every one of your good employees has the risk of a family member, like a niece, a daughter or spouse, that is addicted to drugs. And when someone is addicted to drugs, they have legal problems like arrests, or medical problems like overdoses,” said Whittaker. “[Those employees] are going to call you and call in sick that day. They have to deal with this person. This is a family member. So a drug addict doesn’t just bring themselves down, they bring everyone close and connected to them down with them. That is lost time for you as a business.”

Whittaker concluded by stating the problem must be addressed by all members of the community in order to be effective. Suggested long-term solutions point to an in-patient treatment facility needed in Darke County, continuing education in the schools and for the public participation by all residents providing positive role models.

In the near future, the Darke County Sheriff’s Office will invite community members to participate in a round table discussion of the problem in order to expand local input and extend involvement in the ever-growing issue.

Because not only will addressing regional drug addiction equate to a positive change for the present, but will apply to new generations for many years.

“Quality solutions to this problem will be an investment in our community’s future, especially for our children and our future workers,” concluded Whittaker.