(Written by Sumaya Kroger, FEI EAP Counselor)

The recent passing of singer Prince is a stark reminder of the growing number of individuals who have experienced, or are experiencing, a battle with opiate use. We at FEI have detailed the reality of the opiate epidemic before, but would now like to explore the nature of opiates and their presence in the workplace.

Opiates are a class of drug derived from the poppy plant and used to treat pain. There are three kinds of opiate drugs: synthetic, semi-synthetic and natural. Common natural opiates include opium, morphine and codeine. Semi-synthetic opiates include heroin and oxycodone, and synthetic opiates include fentanyl and methadone. Because of the way opiates affect brain chemistry, these drugs have a high addictive potential.

Pain in the body can be the result of any number of factors including normal aging, injuries on or off the job, cancer, arthritis or congenital conditions. Minor pain can be treated using homeopathic remedies or over-the-counter medicine. However, if pain is severe enough that an individual is unable to function, physicians may prescribe some type of opiate to help alleviate the pain.

There are plenty of people who use opiates—legally, that is. They have a valid prescription from the doctor and a small orange bottle with a label identifying what the drug is, who it’s prescribed for and the pharmacy that filled it. Regardless, any kind of opiate—whether natural or synthetic—can be used illegally as well. How can managers and supervisors discern whether or not an employee is just under the weather or if there’s something more going on than meets the eye?

Many common signs of opiate abuse mirror those of other addictions, but paired with a knowledge of an employee’s character and their history with injury or possible prescription medications, the following signs can indicate the need for mediation:

  • Noticeable elation or euphoria
  • Marked sedation or drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Sudden financial problems
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Shifting or dramatically changing moods

If managers/supervisors suspect or know an employee is using opiates illegally, then what can they do to assist the employee in getting help? Here are some suggestions:

Opiate abuse has been an advancing problem for years, but is now being targeted for intervention as overdose deaths increase and dependency grows. For more information on best practices when tackling opiate dependency in the workplace, please register for our upcoming webinar or contact an FEI account manager.