What negative consequences does pharmaceutical drug use have for Australian workplaces?

The use of pharmaceutical drugs for medical or non-medical purposes is associated with a range of negative outcomes for the workplace, including accidents, injuries, absenteeism and low productivity. This risk may be increased if pharmaceutical drugs are used by employees whose work role requires abstinence from specific pharmaceutical drugs (for instance, prescription drugs which specify that driving or operating heavy machinery should be avoided when under their influence).

Use of pharmaceutical drugs can:

  • impair psychomotor functioning
  • impair cognitive functioning
  • weaken the immune system
  • impair driving ability
  • increase risk of fractures
  • dysregulate mood.

These effects can last between two and 72 hours and can negatively affect workplace safety, performance and productivity. Employees who use pharmaceutical drugs may present a potential danger at work, especially if the user is operating machinery or driving a vehicle.

In 2015/16, the cost to Australian businesses due to non-medical pharmaceutical drug related occupational injury and absenteeism was estimated at $459 million.

Source: McEntee A, Roche A, Whetton S. Chapter 6: Workplace costs. In: Tait RJ, Allsop, S. (Eds.). Quantifying the Social Costs of Pharmaceutical Opioid Misuse & Illicit Opioid Use to Australia in 2015/16. Perth, WA: National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University; 2020.

Non-medical use: A drug used:

  • By itself to induce a drug experience or feeling; or
  • With other drugs in order to enhance a drug experience.

† This FAQ uses data from a report that incorporated data from two sources. One source examined costs due to occupational injuries sustained due to the medical and non-medical use of opioids (undefined). The second source utilised the National Drug Strategy Household Survey to determine costs associated with injury/illness and drug-specific absenteeism due to the non-medical use of opioids (defined as pain-killers/pain-relievers/opioids (oxycodone, morphine, codeine products such as panadeine forte (excluding paracetamol, asprin and ibuprofen where these drugs are the only active ingredients)), and heroin).