Last updated: September 25, 2023
Oxycodone, Oxycontin, and Fentanyl are three of the most widely abused synthetic opioids causing tens of thousands of drug-related deaths in the United States every year. Synthetic opioids are substances that are synthesized and act on the same targets in the brain as natural opioids. Natural opioid drugs, such as morphine, heroin, and codeine, come from natural opium alkaloids and are just as deadly.
The painkiller epidemic that has plagued our nation for decades is also the reason for an increased level of opium abuse in the United States. Addicts are turning to opium because it’s cheap and easy to find.
The reasons that they are switching their drug of choice include:
- The highly addictive nature of opium
- Opium can’t be laced or mixed with other drugs
With fentanyl pouring into our country across the open border, the final bullet point speaks volumes. Drug dealers are buying up the extremely toxic substance because it’s cheap. They mix it into other drugs—say cocaine or meth, for instance—to increase the amount of merchandise they have for sale. Their customers are dying because of it. Some are choosing to use opium because it’s impossible to meddle with the merchandise.
Signs of opium use
Opium is a highly addictive narcotic and users often combine it with other dangerous drugs. The physical signs that someone is abusing opium in the workplace are:
- Constricted pupils
- Little or no appetite
- Flushing of the face and neck
- Dry mouth and dry mucous membranes in the nose
- Respiratory depression—a very dangerous symptom that could be a sign of overdose
Opium can be injected but others choose to smoke it. Therefore, if you notice that someone has a sweet smoky smell about them, it could be a sign of opium use. Keep your eyes open for other symptoms to present themselves.
The behavioral signs of opium abuse are telling as well. People often appear intoxicated or in a dream-like state. These are more noticeable when the person is also exhibiting the physical symptoms listed above.
Other behavioral symptoms of opium abuse are:
- Dizziness/lack of coordination
- Relaxation—when they’re supposed to be working
- Hostility toward anyone asking about drug abuse
- Secretive behavior
- A change in friendships
- A change in appearance
Mood swings are also common because the user feels relaxed and euphoric during the time of impairment. However, when it starts to wear off, they feel irritable and depressed.
Also, opium prevents the user from feeling pain when under its effects but it causes their pain tolerance to become extremely low when they don’t have the drug in their system.
The brain builds up a tolerance to opium. That means that as time passes, larger doses of the drug are required for the user to obtain the desired effect. The risk of overdose continues to grow with each increased dose.
This can be especially dangerous for someone who has tried to abstain from use for a period of time because if they use the dose they were using when they quit, it’s likely to cause an overdose.
Signs of opium overdose include:
- Slowed heart rate
- Excess sweating or chills
- Incoherent speech
- Disorganized thought patterns
- Bizarre behavior
- Loss of consciousness
- Respiratory distress
Suboxone can buy some time
If you suspect that someone in the workplace is overdosing on opium or any of its derivatives, check their pockets for a can of Suboxone. Narcan is another popular brand name. Addicts carry it because it is specifically designed to block opiates from triggering chemical reactions in the brain.
It reverses the effects of the drug for a short time. The length of time that it works depends on how the individual’s body metabolizes the drug. Hopefully, it allows time for EMTs to arrive on the scene.
Being prepared is half the battle
The fact that you clicked on this article shows that you want to be able to identify drug use within your company. Subsequently, that proves that you want to do all you can to provide a safe work environment for your employees.
Someone who uses drugs is at increased risk of causing or being involved in an accident—and so is everyone working around them. Moreover, drugs in the workplace cost business owners millions of dollars every year.
That’s because they lose money due to increased absenteeism and higher medical costs. Drug users are known for their inability to hold a job too. Training someone for a position only to turn around and train someone new for the same position gets costly.
Do you have a drug-free program in place? If not, you should consider it.
One reason is that when people who use drugs learn there’s going to be a pre-employment drug test, they probably won’t even apply. Additionally, some states offer employers lower workers’ compensation premiums with drug-free programs in place.
Before you begin employee drug testing, you should have all your policies and procedures documented in writing. Provide training for your management team so they can learn what the program entails. Hold a class on recognizing signs and symptoms of drug use too.
Lastly, make sure that you inform your employees that you’ll begin employee drug testing in advance. Remember, the majority of employees don’t use drugs. The news that you’re starting a drug-free program will be well received. And, if shortly after you make your announcement, there’s a rash of resignations—good riddance.