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Pandemic Makes Drug Abuse Discussions Even More Critical
By Terri Dougherty

As we deal with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, worries about the future and seemingly endless changes can bring the unhealthy response of drug or alcohol abuse.

The National Institutes of Health notes that at least 30 states have reported an increase in opioid-related fatalities since the start of the pandemic and a New York Times article has referred to COVID-19 as a “national relapse trigger.”

Talking to an employee or coworker about substance abuse can be difficult. It means opening up the door for a conversation that may become emotional or even confrontational.

While it’s never easy to approach someone about concerns of drug or alcohol use, it’s important to have these uncomfortable but critical conversations.
Not talking about it means that the problem is likely to get worse. This increases the possibility of a workplace injury or accident.

Ignoring the issue also means that workplace morale suffers as coworkers deal with the strain of the employee’s reduced productivity. If left unchecked, these problems will lead to emotional distress and turnover.

To ensure that the issue is addressed, make sure your supervisors feel comfortable talking about it. Train them to take action when they see the signs of substance abuse. Your process might follow this basic outline:
  • Document signs of substance abuse and have them confirmed by a second supervisor.
  • Meet with the employee in a private setting.
  • Calmly share specific examples about what has been observed.
  • Give the employee a chance to explain, perhaps asking, “Is anything going on?” or “What can we do to help?”
Take the next steps based on the employee’s response and your company’s substance abuse policy. This may include offering information about rehabilitation or your company’s employee assistance program. It could also mean sending the employee for a drug test.

Training that includes practice in having these conversations can help supervisors be prepared to address concerns about substance abuse. The discussion still won’t be an easy one, but it may prevent the issue from becoming a lingering, and potentially dangerous, problem for your organization.

 
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