According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 48.5 million Americans used illicit drugs or misused prescription drugs in 2016. Consequently, around 66% of the more than 63,000 drug overdose deaths in that year involved a prescription or illicit opioid. Another staggering statistic: 75% of drug users are employed full-time.

As part of a larger mental health and substance abuse awareness campaign Team Natick gathered on Mar. 19 for a "Drug-Free Workplace for Employees" training session. The seminar provided participants with necessary information on the types of drug abuse, the signs and symptoms to identify it, its impact on the user, their family, and on the workplace, and options to get help and treatment.

Substance abuse undoubtedly affects employee performance and places undue stress on colleagues and their employers, hence the need for drug users and their colleagues to begin addressing the problem.

"If you take one thing away with you today, let it be this: There's a crisis in this country with suicide, there's a crisis in this country with drugs and alcohol abuse, and we have to start talking about it. We have to start taking care of ourselves and each other and destigmatizing getting help, healthcare, and mental healthcare," said Kari Sharpe, U.S. Army Garrison Natick (USAG) Director of Human Resources. "We have no problem with talking about and taking care of our physical health and keeping our bodies strong, but for some reason there's still stigma out there to talk about and taking care of our emotional and mental health."

During the presentation Meg Price of ESPYR, a behavioral health company, rattled off the usual (substance abuse) suspects: narcotics, stimulants, hallucinogens, inhalants, depressants (which includes alcohol), prescription medication, and cannabis/marijuana. Participants were reminded that recreational and medical use of cannabis/marijuana by Federal and military personnel is illegal despite being legalized in certain states, including Massachusetts.

"Drug use leads to 75% more absenteeism so we need to recognize signs of substance abuse and its impact on the workplace, including employee health and morale, safety, productivity, decision making, and security," said Price. "We also have to recognize if we're enabling a coworker who has a drug problem. Are we rationalizing their situation? Are we covering it up? Are we threatening to take action without doing so?"

Price continued by saying that employees should also avoid the pitfalls that play on emotions. "Substance abusers can attempt to garner sympathy from colleagues through excuses, apologies, diversions, and tears. This becomes a problem when no action is taken. Keep an eye out for our colleagues. Addiction is common, so decrease stigma to get our coworkers back to where they want and need to be."

The Army's Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, is available for employees seeking help from substance abuse, mentioned Price. Through counseling and benefit coordination the EAP can assess the situation, develop a plan, and provide direct support and treatment resources--including education, detoxification, in/outpatient support, and family and group counseling.

The collective work of the approximately 1,500 military and civilian personnel at the Natick Soldier Systems Center is critical to the support of the warfighter and the Army's modernization and life, health and safety priorities. The employees are also the installation's first line of defense to maintaining a substance-free workplace.

"Just like the Soldiers who rely on the work we do, we too rely on our employees to say 'yes' to a drug-free workplace, to have a better understanding of how substance abuse affects them in and out of the workplace, to be open about their emotional and mental welfare, and to lookout for their Teammates," said Enoch Godbolt, USAG Natick's deputy garrison commander. "Above all, we rely on our employees to have the courage to seek help when needed."