The Undisclosed Cost of Substance Abuse in the UK Workplace

Why is substance addiction in the workplace an important topic in the UK?

75% of the people who use illicit drugs make up 17% of the total workforce in the UK. 3% of the workforce (i.e. 3 million workers) show up for work under the influence of alcohol yearly, 60% of adults are acquainted with someone who has gone to work under the influence of substances, 15% of workers get drunk at work at least occasionally, and 24% of workers have reported drinking during the workday at least once in the past year.

Alcohol and drug abuse cost the UK 21 and 15 billion Euros respectively. The annual cost of missed work days and loss of productivity due to alcohol misuse stands at 17 million Euros and 7.3 billion Euros respectively.

9 in 10 drug abusers work at small or medium-sized businesses. 1 in 10 small business owners reported that employees have shown up to work under the influence of a controlled substance. Businesses lose 100 billion Euros annually (up to 10% of annual payroll) due to substance abuse.

Substance abuse is behind 40% of industrial accidents and 60% of incidents of poor performance. Most alcohol-related performance problems in the workplace are a result of workers drinking just before showing up to work or having a hangover.

33% of employees admit to having shown up for work with a hangover, 83% of those who have had a hangover at work admit that it affected the way they work, and 22% (nearly 1 in 4) admit to having made mistakes at work when they showed up with a hangover.

Some of the impacts of drug dependence and alcoholism in the workplace include absenteeism/additional sick leave, lowered productivity, increased injury/accident rate, fatal accidents, and premature death.

Industries with the highest number of problem drinkers (per 1000 workers)

  • Installation, business, maintenance and repair (106)
  • Leisure and hospitality (109)
  • Retail (114)
  • Wholesale (115)
  • Construction and mining (135)

Industries with the highest rate of drug use

  • Installation, maintenance, and repair (9.5%)
  • Sales (9.6%)
  • Sports and media (12.4%)
  • Construction (15.1%)
  • Food preparation and serving (17.4%).

There are more generally men than women, managers than underlings, younger people than older people, and single people than married, who drink in the workplace.

Men whose jobs are considered blue-collar stand 3.5 times the risk of death from an alcohol-related disease than men in managerial positions.

Workforce drug positivity test

As the rate of substance abuse increases in the UK, drug testing programs have been put in place to help alleviate this negative workplace situation and ensure safety. Testing data in 2016 shows workforce drug positivity to be at its highest after 12 years, since 2004, driven by illicit drugs. Urine drug tests showed a 43% increase in positivity in the tested workforce from 2007-2011.

44% of employees tested positive for cocaine, 60% tested positive for marijuana, and 66% tested positive for opiates.

3.23% of employees tested in 2011 had drugs in their system. Individuals between the ages of 23 and 34 are most likely to test positive for Class As.

An infographic from the team at Addiction Helper

UK The Hidden cost of substance abuseUK The Hidden cost of substance abuse

UK Teens Admit to “Smart Drug” Use to Pass Exams

An investigation by This Morning has revealed that an increasing number of UK teenagers are using “smart drugs” — prescription stimulants, amphetamines and narcolepsy medications — in order to pass exams.

The investigation, which looked at the habits of school pupils aged as young as 14, found that smart drug use among teenage school students was surprisingly high, with a large number of students aware of the effects of prescription stimulants and other medicines.

Commonly used smart drugs include Ritalin (methylphenidate), a stimulant commonly used to treat conditions such as ADHD, and Modafinil, a wakefulness-promoting medicine that’s used for neurological disorders such as narcolepsy.

Both Ritalin and Modafinil have legitimate medical purposes, although both are illegal to buy or possess without a prescription. The investigation found that many students buy the pills online, often from websites based in other countries.

In a Daily Mail article on the topic of smart drug use, Dr Ranj Singh noted that the drugs, despite their use in medicine, “belong to the same family as amphetamines.” He also noted that use of the drugs “doesn’t make you smarter, just more alert.”

Ritalin, Adderall and other ADHD medications have been widely abused by university students, both in the UK and more commonly in the United States. However, the new investigation shows how common smart drug usage is, as well as how young many smart drug users are.

In the investigation, students as young as 14 admitted to using smart drugs to study for and take part in exams, often citing the pressure of passing school exams as a key reason for their use of prescription-only medication.

One student that took part in the investigation, Media Abid, noted that she had “13 plus exams” to study for, and that she was “dependent on caffeine staying up all night revising.” She claimed that due to the pressure of study, she neglected to exercise or maintain her social life.

Media explained that she purchased the drugs online, claiming that a “mindless Google search” had revealed online merchants offering the drugs for sale.

Researcher Enya Quinn-Jarvis also showed viewers how easy the drugs are to find and order online. In just 30 seconds of using Google, Quinn-Jarvis was able to find a smart drugs dealer that offered the option to order the medications to a UK address.

Most smart drugs are stimulants of some sort, meaning that in addition to their initially positive effects on alertness and energy, they can also cause a “crash” effect.

Media, now 19, stated “there are downsides” to the drugs: “My anxiety disorders were getting worse. The biggest problem for me was that I was losing sleep. So the reason I was taking the drugs was to improve my grades but the the lack of sleep was bring them down.”

In addition to stressing the potential dangers of the drugs, Dr Ranj highlighted the serious risks of buying counterfeit or mislabeled drugs online: “when you buy these online, you don’t know what you are getting.”

Instead of turning to smart drugs, Dr Ranj recommended that students struggling with exam pressure talk to a loved one or contact Childline.

Canada Votes to Legalise Recreational Cannabis

The Canadian parliament has voted to pass a law legalising recreational cannabis use, with the country becoming the first major economy to do so.

Canada’s Cannabis Act won in a 52-29 vote in the country’s senate, proving a series of controls and regulations on how cannabis can be grown and marketed to consumers. From September, the act will allow Canadian consumers to purchase cannabis legally throughout the country.

While recreational cannabis laws were passed in several US states over the past decade, the new law makes Canada the first major economy and G7 member to allow cannabis use on a nationwide scale.

The new law is one of several election promises made by the Liberal Party during its previous campaign. As of 2018, the only other country that allows recreational cannabis use is Uruguay.

Canada was one of the first countries to allow medical use of cannabis, with the drug legalised for limited medical use in the country since 1981. However, the new bills opens cannabis use to non-medical users, including the general public.

The law also creates several new restrictions on cannabis use and offenses for illegal growth or sales of the drug. For example, the sale of cannabis products to people aged under 18 is strictly prohibited under the new law.

Under the new law, Canadian provinces and territories also have the ability to set independent minimum ages for cannabis use, allowing provincial governments to restrict access to people above the nationwide minimum age of 18.

Several Canadian provinces and territories have minimum drinking ages of 19, which analysts expect to be repeated for cannabis consumption.

Although Canada is the first G7 country to legalise the use of recreational cannabis, it’s not the only country discussing such a move. Throughout the UK, there’s been increasing debate about the merits and potential benefits of legalising medical and/or recreational cannabis.

Recently, despite an increase in lobbying for the legalisation of cannabis, both the NHS and the Home Secretary have taken steps to reject new laws, claiming that legalising cannabis has the potential to “introduce new risks for young people.”

Despite this, there have been significant efforts made to provide a path towards the legalisation of cannabis, with a group of Tory MPs, academics and legalisation campaigners noting that the drug’s illegal status has produced “stronger, more damaging” form of cannabis.

Under the new law, the Canadian government will regulate the sale of cannabis. The drug (and its byproducts, including oils) will be available for sale only at regulated shops, with the sale of edible forms of cannabis restricted for one year after the law passes.

Edible cannabis products (known as “edibles”) will be subject to separate regulations, which are expected to be introduced in the next year.

Under the law, adults will be able to carry as much as 30 grams of cannabis for recreational use. The law also allows Canadian adults to grow up to four marijuana plants at home. Despite this, provinces such Manitoba and Quebec are likely to ban home growing of cannabis plants.

Prime Minister Trudeau believes that the new law will fix a “failed system” of drug offenses while removing the “criminal element” that’s linked to marijuana cultivation, sale and usage throughout the country.


Increasing Number of Young People View Cannabis as Safer Than Alcohol

An increasing number of young people in the UK believe that cannabis is less dangerous than alcohol, according to new data from NHS Digital published by the BBC.

Faye, a 22-year-old, says that “people of my generation see cannabis as safer than drinking and safer than smoking,” noting that the health risks of drinking and smoking “have been drummed into us.”

According to Faye, a better solution than the “say no” approach young people are exposed to at the moment is to provide further information about the dangers of illegal drugs — something that she claims is effective at preventing alcohol and tobacco use.

At her school, Faye notes that the message delivered regarding drugs was simply that you must “never do them,” whereas alcohol and tobacco were subject to much more detailed information regarding health risks and dangers.

“You’re told your whole life, ‘These drugs are bad for you and they could kill you,’ and then when you do these drugs and you’re fine and having fun, you reflect on your education and think that maybe everything you’ve been told is wrong.”

Faye (a false name), isn’t the only young person in the UK with a diverging view on the relative risks of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis. According to data from 2016, UK school pupils have a higher chance of using recreational drugs than cigarettes.

The trend is a significant reversal from previous decades, in which tobacco was widely used but recreational drug use was relatively rare among young people. According to the research, 24% of British 11 to 15-year-olds claimed to have used recreational drugs at least once.

The 2016 figures show a significant increase from previous surveys. In 2014, a similar survey showed a recreational drug use rate of just 15% for pupils of the same age, indicating a nine point increase in drug use over just two years.

Many recreational drug users are in the early teens. Darren, a 24-year-old interviewed by the BBC, started using cannabis at age 13, stating that he “loves the way” the drug helps him feel relaxed.

Like other young people, Darren’s interest in cannabis over tobacco and alcohol was partly a result of a belief that cannabis is a safer option.

Darren states that he heard how alcohol “can kill, cause liver damage [and] affect your speech” and noted that people “lose limbs and life by doing silly things” while intoxicated. Cannabis, on the other hand, “sounds like a softer option.”

Cannabis is also “more normalised” now than in previous decades, with a significantly higher number of people openly discussing use of the drug. The legalisation of recreational cannabis, which just took place in Canada, may also have contributed to an increase in interest.

Despite the changing attitudes of young people, both recreational and medical cannabis remain illegal in the UK. The government recently announced a review of policy, paving the way for the potential legalisation of cannabis and cannabis-based products as medical treatments.

UK Government Announces Review of Medical Cannabis

The home secretary has announced a government review into the potential use of cannabis as a medical treatment.

Sajid Javid states that the government’s current position on cannabis is “not satisfactory,” while stating that the cases of people such as Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley had played a role in the decision to review the potential use of medical cannabis in the UK.

Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley, both young boys with epilepsy, have become important figures in the effort to legalise medical cannabis, with the home secretary noting that high-profile cases involving the potential medical benefits of cannabis had influenced his decision.

Charlotte Caldwell, Billy’s mother, expressed positivity about the decision. Caldwell is one of the country’s highest-profile campaigners for medical cannabis legalisation, as well as the founder of a cannabis oil company dedicated to funding her son’s medical care.

Speaking after the review was announced, Charlotte Caldwell noted that “common sense and the power of mummies of sick children” had prompted the decision, and that the UK was on the verge of “changing thousands of lives” through the potential legalisation of medical cannabis.

Caldwell and Dingley both have intractable epilepsy — a form of epilepsy that can’t be effectively treated using conventional medication. Both boys have shown improvements through the use of cannabis oil.

Currently, cannabis is classified as a schedule 1 drug — a classification that means it is viewed as having “no therapeutic value.” The drug cannot legally be possessed in the UK, with a range of legal penalties for its cultivation, sale and possession.

Proponents of medical cannabis claim that the UK has lagged behind other countries, such as the United States, which have taken steps to legalise cannabis as a medical treatment.

Canada also recently became the first major economy to legalise cannabis as a recreational drug as part of a campaign promise by Prime Minister Trudeau. Recreational cannabis is also allowed in several US states, including California.

Speaking to the House of Commons, Javid stated that the UK’s current medical cannabis policy was not only not satisfactory to the government, but that it was also not satisfactory for parents of children with epilepsy, their doctors or him personally.

The home secretary also clarified that the review was “in no way a first step to the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use,” noting that the review would not set a precedent or weaken the government’s ability to combat illegal drug use.

The movement for cannabis legalisation has gained a significant amount of attention over the past few years as an increasing number of people in the UK make use of CBD oil — a medicine developed using cannabidiol, a chemical compound found in cannabis.

Widely used to reduce pain and inflammation, CBD oil shares many of its potential benefits with medicinal cannabis. Usage has grown rapidly in the UK over the last two years, from less than 100,000 users in 2016 to upwards of 300,000 in June of 2018.

As part of the review, the government will analyse and consider evidence covering the potential medical benefits of cannabis-based medicines. The second segment of the review will produce an assessment of cannabis’s potential public health benefits and harms.

While the government has stressed that the review is not a move towards legalising recreational cannabis (it announced it has “no intention of reviewing the classification of cannabis”) the move towards further study of medical cannabis has been welcomed by campaigners.