You may already know that at least 10 percent of U.S. employees have reported to work high on weed, according to a survey conducted by Mashable. Another 50 percent have gone to work when they had a hangover, and 28 percent admitted that they took prescription medication before arriving at work.
And while working under the influence can significantly impair judgment and negatively impact customer service in any industry, in some professions, the adverse effects may be more critical in nature.
As you might expect, drug use is higher than average (12.4%) among entertainers, athletes, and other media professionals. In particular, anabolic steroid use is high among athletes, while crystal meth and cocaine are quite popular in the entertainment industry. However, these people don’t provide critical services (although their fans may disagree), and their drug use is not likely to affect you, so they’re not included on this list. Instead this article deals with professions in which impaired judgment may affect the health, protection, or very lives of other people.
You may think that Denzel Washington delivered an award-winning performance in “Flight,” but his role wasn’t that far-fetched. According to a study by the National Transportation Safety Board, there was a four-fold increase in the use of both legal and illegal drugs related to pilots who were killed in plane crashes. The NTSB tests the bodies of pilots for drug use: in 1990, less than 10 percent of pilots had drugs in their system, but by 2011, this number had increased by 40 percent. Antihistamines (which can cause drowsiness) were the most commonly identified legal drug, while marijuana was the most common illegal drug.
Health Care Technicians
CNN reports that in December, 2013, David Kwiatkowski was sentenced to 39 years in prison for causing several outbreaks of hepatitis C. Kwiatkowski, a hospital technician who worked at various health care facilities, injected himself with patients’ pain medicine and then refilled the empty syringes with saline. Because he used the same syringes on himself and the patients, he infected at least 40 patients in almost 20 hospitals, and almost 8,000 people in 8 states had to be tested for hepatitis. But Kwiatkowski was not alone. Since 2009, this was the 3rd outbreak of hepatitis that resulted from health care workers using patients’ syringes.
A study by Boxer and Wild revealed that 40% of firefighters suffer serious psychological effects from working such a stressful job. For example, Cincinnati’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health surveyed firefighters to identify potential stressors. Respondents said that knowing children were in a burning building ranked as the highest stressor, and this is certainly not something workers in the average profession are likely to deal with. Other major incidences like the Oklahoma City bombing and the World Trade Center bombing are additional examples of the types of stressors routinely faced by firefighters. That’s probably why 30% of firefighters abuse alcohol.
According to an AOL News report, up to 25 percent of police officers have a problem with steroids. For example, a DEA investigation in New Jersey revealed that 248 police officers (and 53 firefighters) were guilty of steroid use. So why steroids? Well, Larry Gaines, who is the chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice at Cal State, San Bernardino, says that many police officers turn to steroids to meet the job’s strength and fitness requirements. But steroids aren’t the only abused substances. A study published in the Kurume Medical Journal shows that police officers also consume alcohol and tobacco at higher rates than the general population.
Impairment among nurses is more common than you might think. According to the journal, American Nurse Today, roughly 1 in 10, or 10% to 15% of nurses may either be under the influence or alcohol or drugs, or recovering from the effects of these substances. And they’re not only using street drugs. Some nurses may steal the medications prescribed for their patients, such as Demerol, morphine sulfate, and codeine, according to the nursing journal. To cover their tracks, nurses sometimes put saline in the patients’ injectable medications, or mix the patients’ remaining medication with water. According to AddictionSearch.com, emergency room nurses are 3.5 times more likely to abuse drugs, while oncology and administrative nurses are twice as likely to binge-drink.
According to a study published in “Occupational and Environmental Medicine,” truck drivers turn to a variety of substances to help them deal with the challenges of their job. Researcher Edmarlon Girotto says that some truck drivers abuse alcohol or marijuana, which can significantly decrease concentration levels and may lead to accidents. Also, some truck drivers take cocaine or amphetamines in an attempt to stay awake, but these substances can cause hallucinations, agitation, and vertigo, and may also change driver response times. Drug users are more likely to be young and inexperienced drivers, work or small or medium sized companies, have a record of previous accidents, and/or have longer routes that also require nighttime driving.
Food Preparation Workers and Servers
According to the Mental Health Administration, 17.4% of food prep workers and servers use illegal drugs at double the national average. This category includes cooks and prep cooks, waiters and waitresses, and bartenders. Since restaurants are not likely to perform drug tests, and employees make cash on a daily basis, some substance abusers actively seek employment at these types of establishments. You may be wondering how your life is in the hands of a food prep worker – whether they are abusing drugs or not – but consider this: recently, a worker at a Dickey’s Barbeque restaurant in Utah mistook lye for sugar, and poured the lye in the self-service soft drink machine. A patron who drank sweet tea laced with lye spent two weeks in the hospital recovering from burns in her esophagus. While it does not appear that an employee with a substance abuse problem caused this mistake, the incident serves as an example of how poor decisions by food prep workers and servers can adversely affect you.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, illicit drug use is lower among military personnel than among the civilian population. However, heavy alcohol and prescription drug use are both more prevalent. Only 2.3 % of military personnel admitted using illegal drugs during the past month. But 11% admitted to abusing prescription drugs such as opiate pain medications. In addition, 47% of active duty service members admitted to binge drinking, according to a Department of Defense Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Military Personnel. As with many professions on this list, stress plays a major factor, and military personnel with multiple deployments and combat exposure are most likely to develop substance abuse problems. Among returning veterans, young adults between the ages of 18-25 are more likely abuse alcohol and drugs.
According to the American Bar Association, 15% to 20% of lawyers have substance abuse and alcohol-related problems, and the rate is up to 25% for those who have been practicing law for longer than 25 years. Also, the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission says that 50% of the disciplinary cases involving lawyers are related to substance abuse. Stress, excessive caseloads, and the pressure to win cases are contributing factors. In fact, 26 percent of lawyers experience clinical depression, and suicide rates in this profession are 6 times higher than those in the general population.
How bad is drug abuse among doctors? Well, bad enough that California tried to pass Prop 46, the Patient Safety Act that would identify doctors with substance abuse problems through random drug and alcohol testing. According to the California Medical Board, 1 in 5 doctors will develop a drug or alcohol abuse problem. The Board also says that on a daily basis, thousands of doctors report to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol. And while some doctors may engage in illegal drug usage, many abuse prescription drugs.
Dr. Stephen Loyd, an internal medicine physician who supported Prop 46, stated that 10 years ago he was addicted to opiate narcotics and took over 100 pills a day while working and seeing patients, but thanks to his father’s intervention, he sought treatment and was able to recover. However, his story of intervention and recovery is not the norm.