Addicted to work: the use of cognitive enhancers in the workplace and the implications for occupational safety and health
The use of drugs for non-medical reasons as cognitive enhancers is starting to spread and become normalised among students and certain groups of workers. In the context of increasingly competitive society and working environment the use of these performance-enhancing drugs is expected to grow in the future while the long-term consequences are still unknown.
‘Cognitive-enhancing drugs’ are pharmaceutical substances claimed to improve mental performance, such as focus, concentration, memory or motivation. More broadly, ‘performance-enhancing drugs’ also include claims to improve the acquisition of motor skill, or affective skills, such as dealing with anxiety associated with performing certain work tasks or promoting feelings of trust and affiliation. But no drugs are licensed by state medical authorities to be prescribed as ‘cognitive enhancers’ as such. The term ‘performance-enhancing drugs’ usually refers to the off-label use of drugs prescribed for specific medical conditions (e.g. modafinil usually prescribed for narcolepsy; methylphenidate for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - ADHD) by healthy individuals, for the purposes of performance enhancement. Employees obtain the drugs by another means such as buying them off someone who does have a prescription or off the internet.
The session will start with a review of evidence on the prevalence of current use of cognitive enhancers, the effects of their use on workers and on work, as well as an introduction to the implications for occupational safety and health (OSH). A speaker from a national labour inspectorate will present the challenges posed by cognitive enhancers to regulation and enforcement of OSH in the context of current strategies for reduction of work-related injuries and ill-health. An employer's perspective will be the subject of the next presentation that will focus on how the challenge can be defined, identified and managed in the workplace. Finally an EU Agency will outline the need for further evidence to support policy making and practical interventions.