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The misuse of 'legal highs' and prescription drugs in the workplace

Online pharmacies and 'legal highs' are making the control and misuse of psychoactive (brain-altering) drugs a problem for regulators, according to recent reports. But what kind of effect might this be having on the workplace, and what should employers do about it?

Drug-control legislation is struggling to keep pace with manufacturers of so-called 'legal highs'. The manufacturers are able to adjust their product slightly if it gets banned and continue selling it legally. As many as 80 new 'legal highs' appear each year.

The Local Government Association has called for a change in the law so that all psychoactive drugs are banned, with exemptions made for those such as alcohol.

Currently, the legality of a drug is dealt with on a case-by-case basis, with unclassified drugs slipping through the net until they are classified by the authorities.

Meanwhile, prescription medicines are increasingly available through online chemists, and potentially easier to misuse.

Alcohol and drugs in the workplace

Nearly a third of employers say that alcohol and drug misuse is a problem in the workplace, and more than half say that private use of drugs and alcohol is affecting work.

Alcohol-related sickness absences alone cost the UK economy over £1.9 billion a year, accounting for 5 per cent of all workplace absence.

Alcohol and drugs policies don't have to be limited to what is and isn't allowed in the law. Alcohol use, for instance, is an accepted part of social life, and some workplaces allow social drinking during breaks in working hours. Drug use is often dealt with more firmly.

Either way, any alcohol or drugs policy should be used to ensure problems are dealt with effectively, consistently, and promptly.

They should be framed in a way that encourages misusers to seek help, rather than hiding the problem and making it and its repercussions worse.

Education can play a key part in this. Managers who have a good rapport with their staff will be better equipped to notice sudden changes in behaviour, mood or energy, and pick up on worsening relationships with colleagues.

Higher absence rates may also be indicative of a problem.

Being able to help employees recognise the dangers of misusing alcohol, drugs or 'legal highs', may encourage them to take action and get the help they need.

Acas publications and services

Acas has published the pdf  Advisory booklet - Health Work and Wellbeing [603kb], which sets out how to implement related policies and procedures, and gives an overview of what is demanded by law.

Acas experts can visit your organisation to help you develop, implement and communicated effective alcohol and drugs policies for your workplace. See the Health, wellbeing and managing attendance page for more information.

Practical training courses on Stress, Health, work and wellbeing, Absence management, Skills for supervisors, will make your staff better able to deal with alcohol and drugs issues in your workplace.

The Acas Conference - Workplace Stress: Managing the Risks & Building a Resilient Workforce features leading speakers who will give delegates a greater understanding of how to build a resilient workforce.

For free, impartial advice on any employment relations issue, call the Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100, or consult Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.


This news content or feature has been generated by Scroll. Commentary, opinion and content do not necessarily represent the opinion of Acas.

We recommend that you explore further information and advice available on this website, particularly within our Advice A-Z guidance pages. If you have questions about workplace rights and rules, or would like to talk through a workplace dispute with one of our highly skilled advisers, call the Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100.

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