'The drug epidemic affects us all'

Diane Raver | The Herald-TribuneAs Sgt. Danny Hamilton (second from left) makes a point, Amy Hon (from left), Matt Whipple and Stephanie Hartman listen.

Area employers and community members learned how to combat substance abuse in the workplace during a panel discussion Sept. 5 at the Batesville Casket Doll Plant.

"The drug epidemic affects us all. It does not discriminate due to age, gender or socioeconomic status," reported Kim Linkel, director of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Batesville, which sponsored the gathering along with the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Margaret Mary Health, Hillenbrand Inc. and Batesville Casket. Panel members included Amy Hon, MMH Occupational Health and Wellness Center; Sgt. Danny Hamilton, Batesville Police Department; Stephanie Hartman, Choices Emergency Response Team; and Matt Whipple, who shared his success story.

Hon revealed several reasons why employers should consider implementing a drug-free workplace program: improved worker efficiency and quality of work, increased safety , decreased injury rates and worker's compensation claims and it acts as a preventive measure or deterrent.

She revealed the key components to include in a drug-free workplace program:

• "You must have a written policy."

• Employee education – Workers "need to be aware of the drug-screening policy."

• Supervisor training – "They need to know how to pick up on the signs .... There are online and in-person courses available;"

• Employee Assistance Program – "Is a positive drug screening one and done or are you going to help an employee through this and give them an opportunity to turn his/her life around? You have to have a plan of what happens in case of a positive";

• Drug testing – "You need to visit the site where this is happening and make sure it's a secure process. Do they check photo IDs to make sure it's the right person? Do they make people empty their pockets and not take their belongings into the bathroom?"

"It's not impossible for someone to cheat on a drug test, and it does happen," she pointed out.

The most common types of drug testing:

• Urine, "which detects drug use going back 24-72 hours."

• Hair, "which detects drug use going back about 90 days, but not the last three to five days."

• Oral fluid (saliva) – "This detects recent drug use going back not more than three days."

"There are also blood tests available, but they are expensive."

Hamilton announced, "It is illegal to possess anything that inhibits a drug screen ... (but) we do run into that quite a bit, with people keeping urine in their vehicles or having a reservoir taped to their body to make sure it's the right temperature."

"Meth is on the rise, and we're seeing more and more signs of meth use," the officer said. "Paranoia, where a person hears and sees things that aren't there, could be a sign of this.

If someone is using meth, it could take less than a year for his or her teeth to rot. "I've heard many excuses. One was from a lady who said she had a baby two years ago, and the baby stole all the calcium out of her body, and her teeth rotted."

"If you see dramatic weight loss, that could also be a sign of meth use."

"We used to have a big, big problem with people making meth at their homes and in cars, and we still have some of that, but most meth comes from Mexico now, and it looks like ice.

"It gets transported up to Chicago and back through here on Interstate 74 to Cincinnati. Every day it goes through. There are people who will drive over to Cincinnati to get a half a gram in the morning and then call around to their buddies to see what they want and then make another trip."

Hamilton showed attendees examples of wrappers, and said, "If you find tons of these, someone is probably using marijuana." There are also grinders for marijuana, and "all the gas stations sell them."

"Cut straws or pen tubes are used for snorting heroin .... Pen tubes are a big thing at work, and nobody thinks anything about them if you see them in people's pockets."

He pointed out, "I can't give you any one description of what the drugs we're getting now look like because they all look different .... (but) if you see something that looks strange, don't touch it."

He also revealed, "Alcoholics are getting jobs at night. They're extremely intoxicated, two to three times beyond the legal limit. They're often drinking from water bottles that may be full of vodka. If you see someone with a water bottle who is not acting quite right, that's another sign."

Other indications of possible drug use are "if you have an employee who starts to act lethargic or super hyperactive all at once. Also, a guy who wears long sleeves year-round may be trying to hide track marks."

Hartman reported that CERT team members "get calls from people in the community about substance abuse issues all day long .... If it's an emergency, we will be there within 45 minutes to an hour and a half. If not, we'll be in contact within 48 hours. Then it's connecting them to resources."

"It could be as simple as a mother calling about her son and not knowing what to do. It could be a person using heroin two to three times a day who is not ready for treatment, but we can talk to him/her about options. It could be someone who is ready to go right now to get help."

"When I first started here, I got a call from a boy who lived in Madison. I called another staff member, and we scheduled a meet at a safe location. He had no ID or insurance and was actively using heroin."

He was ready to get help, and "three months later, he's still in treatment. We don't know where our calls are going to come from.

"We reach out for any kind of addiction .... What we can offer for employers is if you have someone who tests positive on a drug test, you can refer them for treatment.

"This gives us the opportunity to see what's going on with them and to address why they're using in the first place. They can start on their road to recovery."

If someone automatically loses a job because of a positive drug test, he or she "will be in a much worse situation .... This can lead to felonies and other problems."

Even though many addicts come from broken homes, that was not the case for Whipple. "My parents are still together.

"I started drinking and using pot at a young age. When I was 16, I stated on Vicodin. I can't think of something specific that happened that caused me to start this, but other kids were doing it, and I liked how it felt when I took it.

"All through high school I was drinking and using anything I could get a hold of.

"I went to college in Kentucky in fall 2000 and was introduced to Oxycontin and Percocet .... Before I knew it, I stopped going to class .... I was picked up by the campus cops numerous times."

Later he got a job in construction. "I worked with people who wanted to use. It was encouraged .... When I was not able to support my addiction, I started stealing from my parents.

"I was introduced to intravenous drugs. I was a user of pretty much anything," recalled the Greensburg resident.

One day, "I ended up in a detox center in Indianapolis and had no idea how I got there.

"A lot of people told me I needed help."

Eventually, "I saw the need for it, and went into inpatient treatment. After 10 months, I went into transitional housing on the north side of Indianapolis.

"I was finally able to stay sober. I got married and had a little girl."

After three years of staying away from drugs, he went back to his old ways. "I moved out of Indianapolis to Greensburg and started working at Honda."

After working there for a while, "I checked into detox again because I made the decision to clean up.

"Today I'm still at Honda. The opportunity to get help and then come back and keep my job meant the world to me."

He reported, "I have a 6-year-old daughter, and my wife and I are divorced, but I am able to support them financially and emotionally.

"I started a nonprofit, Foundations for Recovery, with my mom, and I'm involved in prison ministry .... My recovery has given me the opportunity to give back. That personal experience that I have helps me form a special bond with people who are suffering."

Diane Raver can be contacted at diane.raver@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.