Misuse of pharmaceutical drugs in the workplace an ongoing trend

Published5 October 2015

Curtin University research has identified the industry and occupational groups in the Australian workforce that have a greater tendency to use legally-prescribed and over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes.

The study focused on whether any differences exist between workers in particular industries or occupations.

Professor Mark Harris from Curtin’s Department of Economics and Property said the findings distinguished hospitality as a particularly high risk industry, as well as blue-collar jobs. Contrastingly, jobs with higher responsibility and authority were found to be inversely associated with such behaviour.

“In terms of occupation, construction workers have been related to misuse of pharmaceutical drugs, and those employed in the arts and recreational industry as other high risk groups,” Professor Harris said.

“The misuse of pharmaceutical drugs such as pain killers and analgesics, tranquillisers and sleeping pills, steroids and other opiates is an apparent concern in the workplace, given the losses in productivity and associated workplace risks.

“The impacts are also being felt on individuals, their families and the wider community.”

Professor Harris said the research found that during 2001-2010 around 3.7 per cent of all working-age individuals had consumed some form of pharmaceutical drug for non-medical purposes.

“Our findings confirmed that particular workplace pressures, cultural norms and/or working conditions might be influential factors behind workers’ drug misuse.

“Even though various measures are in place to monitor and deter drug misuse among workers, such as prohibitive legislation and guidelines to assist employees formulate their own drug testing policies, there is a need to acknowledge the challenges involved in attempting to tackle this type of problem.”

Professor Harris said the misuse of pharmaceutical drugs was an ongoing trend and the rise appears to result from the increased and easy availability of these substances, growing social acceptances, and the perception that they are safe.

“Monitoring the consumption of legally-available drugs is difficult to carry out and exacerbating the situation is the growing availability of drugs online.

“Measures such as educational programs and workplace testing procedures may serve as an incentive against engaging in drug misuse.

“An important step towards formulating these demand-reduction strategies is the collation of evidence and knowledge about which workers are most at risk.

“By providing a statistical profile of the prevalence of drug misuse among the Australian workforce, this study offers a useful contribution towards tackling this serious issue,” Professor Harris said.