Do you know anyone in your community who abuses drugs and/or alcohol? Is it a friend? Is it a relative? Is it you? Drug and alcohol abuse is once again on the rise not only for adults, but for teens as well. "After 10 years of a steady decline, teen drug use, specifically the use of marijuana, alcohol, and ecstasy, has increased since 2008, according to a survey by The Partnership at Drugfree.org and the Metlife Foundation" ("Koebler 2011."). For many of us who recognize drug and alcohol abuse, this is a part of everyday life. Whether it is a friend, relative, or even a neighbor, these conditions exist all around us and unfortunately for some it exists in the place we call home. What are the effects of drug and alcohol abuse? And who is it affecting? The truth is whether you recognize drug and alcohol abuse or not, it affects everyone in our community the same way unsafe work habits affect everyone in a company or business.
Unsafe work habits do not always result in an accident or an individual being hurt, injured, or killed, but the majority of incidents that hurt, injure, or kill people in the work place are a result of unsafe acts and work habits. Likewise, the abuse of drugs and alcohol does not always result in an accident that hurts, injures, or kills. But as the Encyclopedia of Education points out (2002) "the majority of injuries, accidents, vandalism, sexual assault and rape, fighting, and other crime are linked to alcohol and drug use" (Gilbert, Griffin, and Gilchrist.). More and more companies and businesses are trying to figure out how to implement safety and stop unsafe work behavior by assuming that the responsibility is theirs. I think it's time our community assumes that same responsibility about drug and alcohol abuse.
In a five minute safety talk by the Consultation Education and Training Division this was said,
"We do our jobs from day to day, and in the process, good work habits are formed. But so are unsafe habits, unless we make an effort to break them. Some habits good or bad, are formed early in the job, while others develop naturally as time goes on. A person might incorporate unsafe habits into the job and continue them for a long time before a mishap occurs. Other people might not be so fortunate. They could learn quickly how an unsafe act can catch up with them unexpectedly. Gambling with the law of averages is a bad bet." ("Unsafe Work Habits").
The same can be said about Drug and alcohol abuse. But how do we get those who abuse drugs and alcohol to make an effort to break these habits? I asked three drug counselors at Four Corners Health, two Emery County Police Officers, and a case worker from Family Services that same question and the decision was unanimous, "Nothing." Unless the individual is willing to get help, it's not illegal to abuse drugs. And abusers can't be forced into receiving help until they have been arrested and charged with a possession of illegal substance or DUI. To force someone to live a better life is most definitely a violation of our human rights and we do not want that to happen. And I totally agree with people choosing for themselves the way they want to live as long as it doesn't affect anyone else. This all makes sense. But the truth is that drug and alcohol abuse does affect the ones around us.
In an interview with Heidi Carlson, a case worker at Family Services, I asked her how drug and alcohol abuse affects the community and she said,"that almost half of all kids exposed to drug and alcohol abuse in the home end up abusing as well" (Personal Communication Dec. 07, 2011). And according to the 2011 prevention needs assessment survey of 129 10th graders at Emery High School, "38 percent of them said they have already used alcohol before and 16 percent of them had used within the past 30 days. And of that 38 percent of 10th grade students who have used alcohol, 38 percent of them said it was at someone else's house with their parents permission" (SHARP Emery School District Profile report). As far as law enforcement and the Criminal Justice system is concerned, for as many crimes that are being committed or drugs being abused that we are aware of, there is the same number of crimes being committed or drugs being abused that go undetected. Now that we have established that drug and alcohol abuse exist and is a part of our everyday life in our community, what steps can we take to try to eliminate it?
In the workplace, as safety has become top priority, the first step that is taken towards safety is identifying signs of unsafe behavior. What are the signs and symptoms for drug and alcohol abuse? They are grouped into three categories, physical, behavioral, and psychological.
The physical warning signs of drug abuse are: "Bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual. Changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Sudden weight loss or weight gain. Deterioration of physical appearance, personal grooming habits. Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing. Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination." (Robinson, Smith, Saisan). Next is the behavioral signs of drug abuse: "Drop in attendance and performance at work or school. Unexplained need for money or financial problems. May borrow or steal to get it. Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors. Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies. Frequently getting into trouble (fights, accidents, illegal activities)." (Robinson, Smith, Saisan). Last is the psychological signs: "Unexplained change in personality or attitude. Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts. Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness. Lack of motivation; appears lethargic or 'spaced out.' Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason." (Robinson, Smith, Saisan).
To help distinguish between the ups and downs of teenage years, here are some red flags that parents could look for to help them know if their teenager is using drugs: "Having bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils; using eye drops to try to mask these signs. Skipping class; declining grades; suddenly getting into trouble at school. Missing money, valuables, or prescriptions. Acting uncharacteristically isolated, withdrawn, angry, or depressed. Dropping one group of friends for another; being secretive about the new peer group. Loss of interest in old hobbies; lying about new interests and activities. Demanding more privacy; locking doors; avoiding eye contact; sneaking around." (Robinson, Smith, Saisan). Did reading these signs and symptoms bring anyone to mind? Is it somebody you are close to? Chances are images of someone you love and care about came to mind, but can you think of anyone in town that you might not be so close to? Now ask yourself, do you ever feel concerned enough to ask them about it? Have you ever asked them about it?
Addressing this kind of situation is awkward whether you know them well or not. Most often times we just look the other way. We see the same thing happen in the workplace with unsafe behavior. I want to introduce you to a program that is currently being used in my place of work; it is called the OTZ program. OTZ meaning One Target Zero. The way this program is set up is everyone in our place of work are given observation booklets, on these booklets is a list of categorized unsafe conditions, or behaviors, with two bubbles next to each one. One bubble is labeled "at risk"; the other one is "safe", on the back of each sheet in this booklet, there is a place to write down our conversations. We take these booklets wherever we go, and set goals in weekly safety meeting to do a set amount of observations each week. This is how an observation works: as you are in the job field and you see other workers performing a task, you walk up to them and say "Can I observe you for a minute?" At this point, the workers know they are being watched and begin working as safe as possible. After observing for a minute or two, you call them to a stop and have a conversation about the task they were performing; you talk about the positives, and address any negatives there might have been. If there are any unsafe acts you ask the question, "Why?" You document the reason, and you leave the men to do their work. With no names, and no one to blame, these observations are turned in, and data is received.
In the beginning the goal of an observation was to get people to perform whatever task you were observing safely and if you could do a lot of observations it would force people to practice doing their jobs safely, and break unsafe work habits. What we found to be more effective than anything is the conversation. By eliminating the confrontation that usually follows when you ask someone why they are not wearing their safety glasses, because they know they are not going to be in trouble for it, helps open up the truth about unsafe work behaviors, and helps those who are guilty of it fix it without feeling pushed, or forced.
For over five hundred days this company has become accident free, and proven the effectiveness of the OTZ program. I want to challenge our community to start having conversations with those who display signs and symptoms of drug abuse, to start asking them why. Not to get them in trouble, but to start understanding their situation because we care. If we ask this question enough times maybe they will try to find the answer as well. That way you won't ever have to say "I could have saved a life today, but instead I chose to look the other way." (Unknown).