Which industry’s workers are most likely to abuse pharmaceutical drugs?

by Nicola Middlemiss20 Oct 2015
A West Australian study has found that workers in the hospitality sector are the most likely to abuse prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s national survey, which is conducted every three years, measured the prevalence of alcohol, tobacco and drug use in the community.

Curtin University researchers examined results they had collected over the past decade, focusing on figures outlining the habits of around 70,000 working-age Australians.

According to Professor Mark Harris, of the Curtin University’s economics and property department, 3.7% of this group admitted to having used a pharmaceutical drug for non-medicinal purposes.

“The key finding was that workers in hospitality were more likely to misuse pharmaceutical drugs,” he told the ABC.

“We also found blue collar workers, so your labourers and construction workers et cetera, were much more likely to misuse these drugs than white collar workers.”

However, he added that his researchers’ findings were unlikely to reflect the true numbers of drug abuse cases.

“All of this data is self-reported, so if anything we'd actually suspect those rates would be underestimated because quite a few people who had done it would not want to admit it,” he said.

South Australia-based Dr Phillip Crowley told the broadcaster he agreed that the true figure could be much higher than the survey showed.

“I think it's really under-reported, under-estimated and under-treated,” he said.

“Prescription and over-the-counter drug use is really replacing illicit drugs in many ways. I've seen it in a whole range of ages, socioeconomic groups and professions.”

Crowley speculated that hospitality workers might simply be more inclined to admit to recreational drug use as they “don't think they’re at risk of a regulatory response”.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the study also found that those in positions of higher responsibility and authority were less associated with misusing pharmaceutical drugs.

The findings come as the Building Code is updated to include a policy making workplace drug testing compulsory for workers on publicly-funded construction sites.

Data from the Australian Drug Foundation (ADF) has previously found that as many as one in five employees have performed their work duties while under the influence of alcohol, with a further 40% attending work while feeling the after-effects.

The ADF has also estimated that drug and alcohol use has an annual price-tag to Australian businesses of around $6 billion, mostly racked up by lost productivity and absenteeism.

HC previously spoke to an associate director of law firm People + Culture Strategies, who advised employers that should they opt to use drug testing, they must balance their legal rights and obligations with achieving an outcome on drugs and alcohol that:
  1. maximises organisational productivity
  2. is appropriate for their industry
  3. aligns employees with the organisation’s culture and values
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