published on October 31, 2017 - 3:38 PM
Written by Donald A. Promnitz

With the Trump Administration’s declaration of the opioid crisis as a public health emergency, it has become apparent that it’s a nationwide problem. It is one that’s being felt not only in the home, but also in the workplace.

According to Castlight Health, a health care information company in San Francisco, 4.5 percent of employees who had received an opioid prescription showed signs of abuse. The same study showed opioid abuse costs businesses as much as $18 billion a year. Clinical psychologist Matthew Tatum, executive director of First Steps Recovery in Clovis, said that these losses come largely from functional impairments on the part of the employee, causing them to lose the ability to manage their day-to-day life.

“And in the workplace, one of the ways that plays out is difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering things, difficulty staying on task,” Tatum said. “And then as things progress, the person starts showing up late to work, has disciplinary actions going on, is calling in sick to work or missing shifts, so all of those are definitely going to pull resources from the employers to a point.”

An addiction to opioids can also, in more extreme cases, lead to the use of stronger and illegal substances. According to OHS Health and Safety Services Inc., 77 percent of illicit drug users in the United States are working either full or part-time.

“We have only 5 percent of the world’s population and we consume 60 percent of the entire world’s illicit drugs. That’s not legal prescription drugs that are in the workplace,” said Flindt Andersen, founder of Parents and Addicts in Need (P.A.I.N). “Again, this affects deadlines, incomplete projects, inaccurate work, drug dealing on site at their employment — that puts everybody at risk.”

A former drug abuser himself, Andersen said that he was taking roughly 70 to 80 Vicodin a day at his lowest point. When he checked himself into Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage at age 45, he weighed about 145 pounds, was losing his teeth, and couldn’t write his name on a piece of paper. He was told that he only had six months to live.

“People don’t understand the addictive qualities of these drugs,” he said. “They don’t understand what they do to the to the body, and the fact that we have more and more to try to feel normal.”

For employees seeking treatment, one of the first steps to recovery is discovering the available treatment options. This includes the amount of time that can be afforded for the process.

If an employee has been with a company for at least a year, he may have the option of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protection. FMLA leave allows for upwards of 12 weeks a year, which can be used for treatment. However, businesses with less than 50 employees are exempt from the provision of FMLA protection. An employee will need to further discern the options available by the employee’s insurance.

“Every insurance company is different, and my suggestion to everyone that’s out there is that you read your plan,” Andersen said. “Because you think you have coverage, and all of a sudden, you don’t. Insurance companies may pay for ten days of detox and then you’re done.”

The level of treatment is also a factor to consider. Tatum said that this depends on a wide range of variables, including what substances the patient is using and amount, the patient’s age and how long they’ve been using.

“Sometimes if the addiction isn’t severe, people can start with an outpatient program,” Tatum said. “If people have not done well in outpatient programs or the addiction symptoms are severe, they may need an inpatient program where that’s detox and potentially residential as well. “

Tatum has described recovery from an opioid abuse as being similar to the “worst possible flu you’ve ever had.” Symptoms such as insomnia, sweating, chills and muscle aches are a common part of the detox process, along with withdrawal pains.

“Time literally stands still when you’re going through withdrawal,” Andersen said. “It’s like a bad Hitchcock movie.”

The options for private treatment centers in the Central Valley, however, may be limited. For example, First Steps is one of only two clinics in the Fresno-Clovis area to offer detox and residential care, and one of only three to provide in/outpatient care, Dr. Tatum said. The result is that most people go out of town to seek treatment.

First Steps now takes most forms of insurance to accommodate the growing patient demand, but not Medi-Cal, which is more commonly seen in the Central Valley.

While the effects of opiate addiction are severe, and the recovery process is life-long, Andersen cautioned that there is a difference between dependency, abuse and addiction. He also said those those with a drug problem at the end of the day are ordinary people with a problem, and are in need of help.

“There are many drug addicts out there that aren’t living under a bridge,” Andersen said. “I didn’t—I lived on Christmas Tree Lane. Still do.”

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