The High Roofer: Recognize Whether Drug Abuse Is Occurring in Your Workplace

Drug abuse in the workplace is a great threat to the health and safety of American
workers, and roofers are no exception. Roofers have the fifth-highest work-related death rate in construction—about twice the average for all construction (about 50 roofers are killed on the job each year, most by falls). According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the construction industry, including the roofing trade, has the second highest level of alcohol abuse and sixth highest level of drug abuse. (The survey is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C.)

Signs and symptoms of drug abuse in the workplace are absenteeism, staff turnover, lower productivity, poor work quality and overall poor morale. These can lead to increased accidents and near misses, theft of equipment and materials, and equipment breakdowns.

In addition, behavioral issues commonly are associated with substance abuse. For example, addicted workers may exhibit a change in attitude or work performance, erratic performance, hangover symptoms and secretive behavior. Other signs include isolation, forgetfulness, indecision, erratic judgment, impulsive and temperamental behavior, changes in personal appearance and hygiene, jitters, hand tremors, hyper-excitability, carelessness, sleeping on the job, trouble with police, aggression and constant illnesses.

If your employees are using, some common sites for drug abuse while at work are lunchrooms and lounge areas, parking lots and cars, remote areas of a worksite, equipment and storage rooms, and restrooms.

Read on to learn about today’s common drugs and identify whether your employees have addictions to these drugs:

Marijuana

Marijuana, also known as weed, reefer, pot, etc., comes from the hemp plant (cannabis sativa). About 10 percent of roofing workers claim to use marijuana. In 1974, marijuana had an approximate 1 percent content of THC (the chemical responsible for marijuana’s high). Depending on the grower, today’s marijuana’s THC content can be between 15 and 22 percent.

Marijuana is highly carcinogenic. One joint is equivalent to 25 cigarettes. It can be smoked, eaten or vaped. Marijuana affects the user’s mental function. Feelings include a sense of well-being, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, depression, apathy, diminished concentration, delayed decision-making, impaired short- term memory, erratic cognitive functions and distortions in time estimation.

Signs and symptoms of marijuana use include impaired tracking, distinctive odor on clothing, decrease in visual functioning and other ophthalmic problems, reddened eyes, slowed speech, chronic fatigue and a lack of motivation. Acute/overdose effects are aggressive urges, anxiety, confusion, fearfulness, hallucinations and heavy sedation.

Withdrawal comes with a loss of appetite, restlessness, chronic fatigue and a lack of motivation.

Methamphetamine

Amphetamine, methamphetamine, uppers, speed, crank and ice are similar in makeup and effect. The second-most widely used drug (after marijuana), meth can come in different colors: white, brown, pink. It can be taken orally as tablets or capsules. Its liquid form can be injected or mixed with other fluids and drank. It can also be snorted as a powder. In its rock form, it can be smoked.

Within minutes after being smoked or injected, users experience an intense “rush”, which is said to be very pleasurable. Although the rush only lasts a few minutes, the effects can last for up to 12 hours and keep users awake and moving for several days at a time. Meth users build up a tolerance, which forces them to have a strong desire for more.

Visible signs and symptoms of meth use are hyper-excitability, dilated pupils, profuse sweating, confusion, panic, talkativeness and an inability to concentrate. Regular use produces strong psycho- logical dependence and increased drug tolerance. High doses may cause toxic psychosis, resembling schizophrenia. Intoxication may induce heart attack or stroke. Chronic users experience increased impulsive or risk-taking behaviors.

Withdrawal causes severe depression. The effects of meth are so potent that there is a 95 percent relapse rate.

Cocaine

Cocaine was once called the “Rich Man’s Drug” because of its short-lived effects. Regular use can upset chemical balance in the brain. It also causes the heart to beat faster and harder. Deaths caused by overdose can occur when taken with depressants.

Signs and symptoms of cocaine use in the workplace include financial problems; frequent absences from work; increased physical activity followed by fatigue, isolation and withdrawal.

Cocaine users usually show increasing secretive behaviors and unusual defensiveness. Other symptoms include wide mood swings, nose problems, difficulty in concentration and dilated pupils. Cocaine addicts exhibit the strongest mental dependency of all drugs, and the treatment success rates are lower than all other addictive drugs.

Opioids

One of the worst drug problems in the U.S. today is the opiate/opioid epidemic. Natural opiates are derived from resin of the poppy plant. However, synthetic opioids are increasingly replacing natural opiates.

Addiction to opioid medications has impacted every level of society. Many people blame the addiction prevalence on health-care providers who are quick to write a prescription for help with chronic pain. An estimated 210 million prescriptions for opiates were dispensed in 2010 alone. According to DrugAbuse.com, examples of opiates include heroin, morphine, oxycodone (trade names are OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (trade names are Vicodin and Lortab), codeine and fentanyl. Frighteningly, prescription opiate abusers are far more likely to eventually develop a heroin addiction than a non-opiate abuser because heroin will offer a similar high at a cheaper price.

Any long-term use puts a person at risk of addiction, even if the substance is used as prescribed. Many people who use opiates will develop a tolerance to them—a phenomenon that can trigger the cycle of addiction. When this occurs, people routinely take more of the substance to elicit the desired response. This ever-increasing dosing places one at great risk for overdose.

Physical signs that someone may be abusing an opiate include noticeable elation/euphoria, marked sedation/ drowsiness, confusion, constricted pupils, slowed breathing, and intermittent nodding off or loss of consciousness. Other signs of opiate abuse include shifting or dramatically changing moods, extra pill bottles turning up in the trash, social withdrawal/isolation, and sudden financial problems.

Withdrawal symptoms from opiates can be extremely severe. The symptoms mimic the flu and include headache, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, fatigue, anxiety and inability to sleep. These symptoms can be so severe that the addict will do anything to feel better.

Don’t Mix Roofing and Drugs

Because falls from roof edges account for half or three-fourths of roofers’ deaths, it’s not difficult to understand why drug use on the job would be concerning. For roofers in residential construction, falls from roof edges accounted for 70 percent of work-related fall deaths and 90 percent of roof fall deaths. These statistics coupled with the statistics on drug abuse in the construction industry suggest that drug abuse possibly may be a contributor to falls.

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About Michael J. Dudek

Michael J. Dudek is an Authorized OSHA Outreach Instructor with extensive experience in general industry and construction.

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