Is Your Employee a Drug Trafficker? Opiates in the Workplace

Hydrocodone Pills

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sales of prescription opioids quadrupled during 1999 to 2014. Referred to as an opioid crisis in America, it seems we all know someone battling an addiction to prescription medications.

Opioids include prescription pills (including Vicodin, Oxycontin, and Percocet), as well as Heroin and Fentanyl, a drug that can be injected, taken as a lozenge or through a skin patch.

Nationwide 1 in 4 people who are prescribed opioids will struggle with addiction. The depth of the problem is highlighted in a disturbing CDC post stating, “Almost all prescription drugs involved in overdoses come from prescriptions originally; very few come from pharmacy theft. However, once they are prescribed and dispensed, prescription drugs are frequently diverted to people using them without prescriptions. More than 3 out of 4 people who misuse prescription painkillers use drugs prescribed to someone else.

In addition to the personal toll to the addicts and the American family touched by opioid abuse, the CDC also estimates the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the cost of healthcare, loss of productivity, absenteeism, increased injuries, addiction treatment, theft, criminal justice involvement, and legal liabilities.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates 68.9% of all drug users are employed.

The Drug Enforcement Agency estimates employed persons who misuse opioids account for 64.5% of medically related absenteeism and 90.1% of disability costs.

The use of opioids in the workplace is a growing battle for American business. According to a National Safety Council (NCS) survey, 57% of employers perform drug tests. However, more than 40% do not test for synthetic opioids like oxycodone, one of the most abused narcotics on the market, making accurate national statistics unreliable.

An NCS survey also found 29% of employers reported impaired job performance due to use of painkillers, with 15% citing injuries due to drug use. Up to 70% of employers said their workforce has been negatively affected in one way or another.

The Impact of Drugs in the Workplace

Use of drugs impairs decision making and causes physical impairment, a deadly condition when at work. It causes an overall decline in employee morale, an unsafe working environment and increases employer liability.

It is estimated at least 1 of 6 employees use drugs at work and the toll on the workplace is costly in the following ways:

  • Addicts are 1/3 less productive than their counterparts
  • Five more times likely to cause accidents
  • Are absent up to 20 times more often
  • Five times more likely to request workers compensation
  • Contribute to 40% of all industrial work fatalities
  • Health care costs for addicts is three times higher than other employees
  • Admitted to selling drugs to coworkers
  • Admitted to stealing from employers and coworkers

It is estimated 70% of 14.8 million Americans who use illegal drugs are employed. It is safe to assume if you have drug abusers on the job, you probably also have drug dealers operating within your company.

As drug dependency increases, it is common for addicts to buy drugs from friends or coworkers and even steal from their company, co-workers and clients.  

Experts have also found the number of heroin addicts have increased as it is common for an opioid user to transition to using heroin when they begin running out of pills and money. Heroin is significantly cheaper than opiates and easier to obtain. Heroin laced with Fentanyl is becoming increasingly popular because it can be 50 times stronger than heroin.

The drug dealer of today is no longer the shady guy driving a decked-out Cadillac, meeting his clients in a dark alley or an unlit street corner. Dealing drugs to coworkers is preferred over standing on the corner selling to strangers and for a drug trafficker, less risky.

At work, a dealer has an employed clientele able to afford the drugs, and someone they can establish trust with while selling under the radar of management in the restroom, parking lot, lunch-room or cubicle.

Oftentimes workplace dealers will sell drugs on credit or a “front” according to the book Undercover Investigations in the Workplace by Eugene Ferraro. Drugs are sold to an employee with the agreement of paying later, usually on payday. Co-workers make the perfect client for a drug dealer and quite a lucrative business, with one Oxycontin pill demanding up to $50-$80 each on the street according to a CNN Money article Prescription Drugs Worth Millions to Dealers.

CashAccording to Ferraro, “We have caught employees-dealers (earning less than $10 an hour from their employer) who never carried less than $10,000 cash to work.”

Paydays are usually the biggest days for drug trafficking activity. However, to pay for drugs, addicts often turn to their employers to fund their habits.

With addicts in the workplace, there is a higher incidence of theft of equipment, tools, products and part inventories where drug trafficking and abuse is occurring. Aside from being at increased risk, both abusers and drug dealers are more likely to become involved in additional criminal behavior, stealing from their employers and fellow employees.

What are the signs of drug trafficking and abuse in the workplace?

Are certain employees driving an expensive car far beyond the means of what they make working? Flaunting money? Are your employees leaving without notice to meet clients? High turnover and absenteeism and/or meeting in the bathroom or parking lot? What may appear on the surface to look like comradery, could be a sign of something more.

Robert Avery, 41, worked as the Parental Involvement Director at a Head Start program in Gadsen, Alabama. Instead of offering educational and health services to low-income children, Avery was arrested for selling the prescription drug “Roxycontin” to undercover agents from the program facility.

Robert RokardEven police departments are not immune. November 20, 2017, Jellico Police Department Dispatcher and Fireman Robert Rookard, was arrested in “Operation Thanksgiving Harvest” for selling drugs at work.

In August 2017, more than a dozen Atlanta USPS workers were rounded up for running an illegal drug distribution operation. Sixteen employees working at post offices across Metro Atlanta were arrested for accepting bribes in exchange for delivering kilogram packages of cocaine.

When the FBI received a tip that drug dealers were running packages of drugs through the mail system, they began an 18-month sting putting a fake drug dealer on the street to see how many postal workers they could get to sign up. In a bribery agreement, workers agreed to provide special addresses to the drug trafficker, intercepting and delivering the packages to the dealer, who just happened to be working with law enforcement. The number of postal workers who agreed to participate astounding.

While some companies may assume there is no liability for the actions of an employee, one company is feeling the devastating effects. According to the October 13, 2017, Chicago Tribune article, “Oak Park appeals board upholds pantry’s closure after employee accused of selling heroin,” it was reported The Village of Oak Park in Chicago closed the Austin Food Pantry after 55-year old store manager Edgar Lucas was arrested on 17 counts of heroin sales and possession at the establishment. Charges include 5 counts of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance determined to be heroin. In the aftermath, the city revoked their business license.

In an appeal, the store owners stated they had no knowledge of the employee’s drug activities; however, Village of Oak Park trustees upheld the decision to permanently close the business. In a written ruling, trustee Cara Pavlick said Austin Pantry owners were “negligent, reckless and careless at a minimum in allowing their business to be operated as a place for the sale of illegal narcotics on numerous dates.”

Austin Pantry

Drug use and trafficking are often difficult to spot and many times even harder to prove. However, every employer and Human Resources department has a responsibility to ensure a safe environment for all employees, immediately addressing any infraction or suspicion to reduce liability within the workplace and protect your company.

Private Investigators – A Weapon in Battle to Reduce Illegal Drug Use

An internal investigation sometimes involves drug-testing, some use dogs, and some use undercover operatives. Wall Street and other large corporations began using private investigations long ago with the demand ever increasing.

General Motors (GM) reported substance abuse by some of its 472,000 employees and their dependents cost the company $600 million in 1987. To combat the problem, GM instituted undercover operations at 10 mid-western plants and said it would not hesitate to use such investigations in the future. That was then, and drug use in the workplace has only increased.

While employers are encouraged to practice a covenant of good faith and dealing with all employees, protecting the workplace should be the primary goal, and often requires professional private investigators to work alongside law enforcement to ferret out drug use and other illegal activity.

Conducting a private investigation not only reflects your company as being proactive, careful documentation can help achieve a conviction and reduce liability.

Thomas Lauth, owner of Lauth Investigations International, specializes in undercover investigations for both blue-collar and white-collar companies. Having spent over 20 years in the field as a private detective, he believes diligence is key to combating workplace crime. “One can never be too careful or diligent when protecting their company. When working with clients, we tailor our investigation to the needs of each individual client.”

When hired by a client, Lauth’s investigative team provides an assessment and tailors the investigation to the needs of the specific case. Working with Human Resources, the business is profiled to determine the best course of action.

The most effective way to detect drug trafficking and abuse in the workplace is to conduct a covert investigation planting an investigator within the company. Typically, the investigator goes through the hiring process like any other employee, informing minimal staff, allowing the undercover private investigator to protect their identity and integrity of the investigation.

From there, the investigator fits in with employees, developing friendships to gain information about drug activity. In Lauth’s experience, “Many times, our investigators uncover additional illegal activities, resulting from the initial investigation,”

Periodic background checks can also assist companies in identifying employees who are high risk for illegal activity. “At Lauth Investigations, we recommend conducting background checks of all employees, newer employees as well as those who have worked for the company for several years. A lot can change after the hiring of an individual,” Lauth says.

For those who may be concerned office morale may be damaged, Lauth points out a background check can be conducted legally without the employee’s knowledge. “Background checks can reveal drug offenses, fraud, theft and other criminal activity on record with a police department or court and one of the most important steps a company can take to protect their company.”

For more information contact Thomas Lauth, Lauth Investigations 317-951-1100.

Written by Lauth Investigations Feature Writer Kym Pasqualini.