Last week, the highest-ranking female executive at Toyota stepped down amidst allegations that she illegally imported the prescription drug oxycodone into Japan. Julie Hamp
, the automaker’s former chief communications officer, has since been released from custody and will not face criminal charges.
While multiple media outlets reported that Hamp is not suspected of abusing the painkiller and was released from the charges July 8, the high-profile nature of the incident nonetheless shed more light on a growing problem within corporate America: prescription drug abuse. It’s an issue that affects the tech industry in particular.
California, home to Silicon Valley, has the country’s second-highest rate of illicit drug dependence and abuse among 18- to 25-year-olds (Vermont is tops), notes a study from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. According to one source, there are 1.4 million prescriptions for hydrocodone in the Bay Area alone. And the tech industry leans toward the younger end of the age spectrum; compensation information company Payscale Inc. reports that the median age at a Silicon Valley tech firms
ranges from 28 to 33 years old.
According to Will Wesch, vice president of admissions at Novus Medical Detox center in Florida, it’s a continuation of the behaviors the millennial generation used in college in order to succeed.
“There’s a lot of reasons this happens,” Wesch said. “You have deadlines. They are working around the clock to meet quotas, targets, different things like that. It’s very easy for somebody to get that increased energy level. Not much different than a college kid cramming for an exam and taking adderall and things like that to stay awake for two days.”
But the problem is by no means exclusive to California. Wesch said that Novus has seen a 12-15 percent increase in business professionals seeking treatment for the addiction and dependencies of alcohol and pain medication over the past few years.
Unfortunately, that increase has the potential to have a significant negative impact on a company’s success. People abusing drugs use three times the amount of sick benefits and account for five times more worker’s compensation claims, Wesch said. That adds up to about $120 billion in lost productivity, $11.4 billion in health care cost and $61 billion in criminal justice costs.
That’s a lot of liability for an employer. Luckily, there are steps employers can take to help employees overcome addiction that extend beyond requiring drug testing.
“While workplace drug testing is one way employers can address substance abuse, support programs and detox centers play equally important roles,” Wesch said. “Substance abuse treatment program with a variety of pathways can help workers overcome addiction.”
The process starts with creating an employee assistance program that gives employees a safe outlet to turn to. From there employers can partner with organizations such as Novus that offer outpatient style treatment that allows employees to continue working while getting clean.
“There are serious implications here than an employer needs to look at,” Wesch said. “Everybody is trying to get the most productivity and have a great work environment, and I think this has become essential. A lot of business owners that had been alcoholics or had problems with medications just kept it to themselves, but more and more people are realizing that there are avenues to get help and employers have the ability to connect the workforce to these sources.”