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Non-prescription Drugs in the Workplace

On March 7th at the Australian Open Maria Sharapova, world number seven tennis seed, announced that she had tested positive for Melodonuim use. The drug, which is also known as Mildronate, had been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency on the 1st January 2016.

Melodonuim is only distributed in Baltic countries. America and the rest of Europe does not authorise its usage. Melodonuim is most commonly used to treat ischaemia, a condition where there is a lack of blood flow to part of the body, especially in cases of heart failure and angina. The effect of the drug is to increase blood flow which can increase capacity. The drug is so specialised that Soviet troops in Afghanistan used it to help them with their endurance. It’s strong stuff.

The drug manufacturer’s website claims that “When using Grindek’s Mildronate, one can feel a toning effect, one’s memory improves, thinking becomes faster, your movements become more dexterous, and your body becomes more able to defend itself against adverse conditions.” The World Anti-Doping Agency found that the drug could be used to enhance athletes’ performances by carrying more oxygen to the muscle tissue allowing athletes to have the ability to train harder, making it a performance enhancing drug.

Ms Sharapova says she was taking Mildronate to address magnesium deficiency and to counter-balance her family’s history of diabetes. She has been taking the drug for ten years.

The incident has cost Ms Sharapova a good deal. According to Forbes she’s been the highest paid female athlete in the world for several years. She could face a ban from tennis for up to four years so she’ll lose future prize money. Her reputation has been damaged. Tag Heuer has cut its ties; Porsche said it was “postponing planned activities”; Nike said that they have “decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues” and the UN has suspended her as a goodwill ambassador.

The Drug Misuse: Findings from the 2014/15 Crime Survey for England and Wales suggests that around one in 12 of UK adults aged 16 to 59 had taken some form of illicit drug. The highest users are aged between 16 and 24 with one in five admitting to drug use. That’s an equivalent of around 2.8 million people taking non-prescription drugs each year.

Drugs and other illicit substances are bad news in the workplace. They can cause high absenteeism, a reduction in productivity and increase the risk of accidents, injuries or other incidents.

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 employers must ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees as far as is reasonably practicable. They also have a duty under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, to assess the risks to the health and safety of employees. If an employer allows an employee to work, knowing the employee is under the influence of illicit drugs and his or her behaviour places the employee or others at risk, the employer could be prosecuted.

It is important to be aware of the possible implications of drugs in your business. Under the Road Traffic Act 1988 and the Transport and Work Act 1992. Drivers must not be under the influence of drugs whilst they are in charge of a vehicle meaning that if they were caught both you and your employee could face sanctions.

There aren’t always clear signs that someone is a habitual user of illicit drugs, however below is a list of common indicators:

  • sniffy or runny nose;
  • red or glassy eyes;
  • mood swings; irritable and grumpy and then suddenly happy and bright;
  • a tendency to become confused;
  • abnormal fluctuations in concentration and energy;
  • impaired job performance;
  • poor time-keeping;
  • increased short-term sickness absence;
  • a deterioration in relationships with colleagues, customers or management;
  • dishonesty and theft (arising from the need to maintain an expensive habit)’;
  • loss of interest in personal grooming.

The HSE recommends the following process to manage drug use in the workplace.

  • Develop an appropriate policy to set out a framework.
  • Provide drug awareness training.
  • Consider introducing drug and alcohol screening and random testing.
  • If you notice behaviour which could indicate drug abuse, investigate to find out if there’s a problem.
  • Take advice and decide what to do.
  • Take action. This this may initially be support, for example allowing time off for counselling or treatment, but it may ultimately become a disciplinary matter.

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