The Invisible Drug: Why it’s so Difficult to Detect Cocaine Use in the Workplace
While the use of cocaine in the workplace can have serious impacts on productivity, morale and workplace safety, it can be very difficult to detect. Here we look at how you can tell if a colleague or employee is using, and how you can help.
The popularity and availability of cocaine in Australia is on the rise. In late December, Australian police seized 500 kilograms of the drug in one of the biggest cocaine busts in the country’s history. But despite the authorities’ best efforts, anecdotal evidence suggests that cocaine is easier to obtain than ever before.
The statistics back this up. An estimated 2.1 per cent of Australians aged 14 and over have used cocaine in the past 12 months — that’s almost half a million people — while 8.1 percent of Australians say they have tried cocaine at least once in their lives.
While there are no official figures available for cocaine use in the workplace, it’s inevitable that the proliferation of the drug is taking a serious toll on professionals and productivity. Overall, the use of illegal drugs, including cocaine, in the workplace is estimated to cost the Australian economy over AUS$1 billion every year.
Cocaine is a notoriously strong and addictive drug that can have serious consequences in the workplace if even just one employee is using. Not only is the employee likely to be unproductive and unreliable, but their behaviour around and towards their colleagues can have significant negative effects on workplace morale. Even if the employee or employees in question are taking the drug in their own time, the knock-on effects can be severe.
One of the biggest problems facing employers and professionals is that it can be very difficult to spot cocaine use in the workplace, especially among occasional users of the drug. As an almost odourless white powder, it’s much more difficult to spot than, say, alcohol. Additionally, users don’t tend to display any of the lethargy or slurred speech associated with alcohol or opioids. And some of the more common side effects of cocaine use, such as anxiety, stress or burnout, can sometimes be mistaken for normal workplace stress.
Spotting the Tell-tale Signs of Workplace Cocaine Use
While detecting the use of cocaine in the workplace is difficult, it’s not impossible. Many employers have drug testing policies in place, but when it comes to cocaine, even these aren’t foolproof. Cocaine metabolizes much more quickly than most other drugs so may not show up in tests for occasional users.
Very often the best way to recognize if an employee or colleague is using is to be aware of the tell-tale physical and behavioural signs of cocaine addiction. These may not be so apparent in occasional users but will become easier to spot in the case of longer-term coke addiction.
Physical symptoms can include:
- Constant sniffing
- Sudden weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- Dilated pupils
- Licking lips frequently
- Burns on fingers or lips from smoking cocaine
- Track marks from injecting cocaine
- Restlessness, fidgeting or inability to sit still
Behavioural symptoms can include:
- Poor or impulsive decision making
- Frequent mood swings
- Unusual excitement or euphoria
- Leaving office frequently to use bathroom or take phone calls
- Talking endlessly, often about seemingly unrelated subjects
If an employee or colleague may have a problem with cocaine it is vital to take action as early as possible. By confronting the problem in a professional and sympathetic manner you can help them take the steps they need to make a successful recovery at minimum cost to your business.
If You Are a Co-worker
If you suspect a colleague’s cocaine use is affecting your and other people’s ability to do their jobs, it may be time to take action. While cocaine use is difficult to detect in the workplace, it’s important to be sure that the person is using the drug before broaching the subject. If you’re in any doubt, it’s best to speak to a manager or health and safety representative.
If you do wish to handle the situation yourself it may be a good idea to consult a counsellor, health professional or your workplace’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for advice first. When speaking to the colleague in question, clearly and calmly outline how their cocaine use is negatively impacting you and other workers. Having this conversation outside of the workplace environment may be more comfortable for both of you.
If You Are an Employer
While employers have a duty of care to protect all workers from drug-related accidents and mishaps, simply firing workers who use cocaine may not be the best step. Preventative action is always best and creating clear alcohol and drugs policies and training employees about the effects of cocaine use in the workplace can go a long way towards dealing with the problem before it even begins.
If a worker is found to be taking cocaine at work, or if their cocaine use is affecting their productivity, many employers will allow them to keep their job if they show a willingness to get the treatment they need. For longer-term users, inpatient cocaine addiction treatment may be required, sometimes taking the employee out of the workplace for a number of weeks. Working with employees to ensure a mutually beneficial outcome can help them get past their addiction while maintaining a positive and supportive workplace environment.