Employers learn how to help employees with addictions

Local businesses learned how to help employees struggling with opioid addiction at a presentation about how the drug epidemic is affecting the workplace.

The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a discussion Friday about how to help employees struggling with addiction be successful at work. Training on how to administer naloxone, a medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose was also offered, along with distribution of the antidote to those who attended.

The event, “Taking Care of Business — How the Opioid Epidemic Affects Local Businesses,” was held at the Columbus Area Visitors Center. About 25 business leaders and those involved in addiction treatment attended the session.

At the beginning of the event, Nicki Vreeland, mental health action team coordinator at Healthy Communities, and Marla Satterfield, manager of human resources at Our Hospice of South Central Indiana and member of the Alliance of Substance Abuse Progress (ASAP) prevention team, gave a presentation that focused on the importance of putting drug policies in place at work. They also discussed the importance of educating employees about community addiction services and those available through a company’s benefits package.

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Afterwards, Dr. Chris Schneider, a physician at Columbus Regional Hospital’s Emergency Department, offered training on how to administer naloxone, a medication that can temporarily reverse the toxic effects of an opioid overdose, particularly slowed or stopped breathing.

Satterfield emphasized that it is in an employer’s best interest to “support confidential access to treatment.” One way that they can do this, she said, is through an employee assistance program, which is an intervention program that employers can purchase to help employees resolve a wide range of personal problems, including opioid addiction.

Satterfied said 70 percent of U.S. companies and 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies purchase employee assistance programs.

“Managers and supervisors are key to the promotion of these services,” Satterfield said. “It’s really important that we make them aware that there is help and to educate employees on the availability of services and how they are confidential.”

Vreeland said employers need to be compassionate with employees who are struggling with opioid addiction and help find a way for them to return to work after they get treatment.

“(It’s) being compassionate, taking into consideration the safety measures that (employers) have for their own specific business and finding ways for people to come back work,” Vreeland said. “Be supportive through the process (of recovery). I’ve heard of employers who suspend people while they seek treatment, but they can come back to their job. If people know they have a way back to work, they do much better and they feel supported. A lot of people consider their work environment their second family.”

After the presentation, four-milligram doses of the naloxone nasal spray were handed out to those in attendance. The medication is available without a prescription at local pharmacies and typically costs between $100 and $120 per dose, Vreeland said.

Schneider said the nasal spray takes effect in one to two minutes after being administered. Opioid molecules — like certain pain medications and heroin — bind to receptors in the gastrointestinal tract and brain, including the part of the brain that control breathing, and then activates them, he said. The medication essentially forces the opioid molecules off of the receptors and then binds to the receptors without activating them, reversing the effects of the opioid molecules.

“When you take an opioid, even taking it appropriately, it will slow down your breathing,” Schneider said. “Now, if you take it appropriately as prescribed, you’re not going to get in trouble. It’s when you abuse it or accidentally overdose on it, that’s when it depresses your respiratory system to the point where you’re not taking in enough oxygen.”

Schneider said administering the nasal spray is simple and non-invasive — insert the tip of the nozzle into one of the person’s nostrils and press the plunger firmly.

People often abuse opioids for the euphoric effects they can produce and to attempt experiencing withdrawal, which Schneider said is “terrible.” Withdrawal can start as early as a few hours, typically less than a day, after the last dose, he said. Withdrawal symptoms can last more than a week, but cravings can last a lifetime.

“We call it, ‘everything runs’ — your eyes start running, your nose starts running, vomiting, diarrhea,” Schneider said. “You feel like you’re going to die, but … you’re not going to die from an opioid withdrawal, but you almost wish you would. It’s terrible.”

One of the most common symptom of an overdose are constricted, “super tiny” pupils, Schneider said. People who have overdosed may be unconscious or semi-conscious. Their skin may become pale and then their skin can start turning blue due to lack of oxygen.

Opioid overdoes deaths in the United States have skyrocketed to crisis levels in recent years. In 2017, there were 47,600 deaths in the United States involving opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2007, there were 18,515, and there were 8,048 in 1999.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that overdose deaths at work due to non-medical use of drugs or alcohol increased by around 25 percent annually between 2013 and 2017. The data, however, does not specify how many of those deaths were related to opioid use.

In Bartholomew County, there were 21 fatal opioid-involved overdoses in 2017, or a rate of 25.6 deaths per 100,000 residents, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. The state average was 17.6.

“Stigma is a huge barrier for anyone who needs help,” Vreeland said. “But if we start talking about addiction as the disease it is, it seems a lot easier for people to seek help and a lot more reasonable for people to recognize that people need help. When we view things as the disease, we know that it’s not a moral failing. We know that it’s not necessarily a choice. Some people are more susceptible to some diseases than others.”

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Visit asapbc.org for more information about the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County (ASAP).