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Drug Abuse in the Workplace

The Majority of Drug Abusers are Employed!

Fact: Only about 23% of our nation’s drug-abusers are sitting around in the abandoned buildings and back alleys of our cities shooting up heroin, snorting coke, taking a hit of a joint, or inhaling meth...

The war on drugs has been going on for some time now. Illegal drugs and drug abuse seem to be everywhere and that includes the workplace. In a recent statement, Barry McCaffrey, the (former) White House drug policy director, told reporters that "the typical drug user is not poor or unemployed." In fact substance abusers are drivers, welders, bartenders - one could even be your store manager!

The Department of Health and Human Services recently released a report that stated 44% of drug users work for small companies. That same study found that 7.7% of workers between the ages of 18 and 49 used illegal drugs in the previous month. Furthermore, young, white, under-educated males are the most likely to use drugs.

In the restaurant industry, according to the Wall Street Journal, workers admitted to stealing $218 in food and property each year. Usually they do this through unauthorized meals for themselves and friends. However, those with drug and alcohol problems stole five times the amount.

Recreational drugs and their side effects

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  • A Quick Summary

Your employees' behavior at work affects everyone and it also affects the bottom line. Drug abusers are less productive; miss more workdays; often injure themselves or coworkers; file more worker's compensation claims. No one company can absorb the costs incurred by this segment of the work force, but someone does pay. Employees pay through higher insurance premiums, lesser salaries and smaller benefit packages. The consumer ends up paying higher prices for goods.

Managers and owners should be aware of some of the telltale signs of drug abuse. Watch out for employees who are often late or absent. Those same people have trouble keeping their emotions intact. They are moody or are prone to unusual flare-ups of temper. Their physical appearance starts to deteriorate and their relationships with the other workers fall apart. As far as the job is concerned, these people are more concerned with their addiction than your business. Watch carefully for those people who are always borrowing money from others or who frequently need an advance on their salary. Have you ever checked the company credit cards and noticed that an employee has made personal charges? Not only do these people hurt the morale and productivity of the company, they can also ruin a company's image and reputation.

There are some things a manager or owner can do to fight the drug and alcohol abuse problem in the workplace. Institute a drug policy for the company with background checks, and enforce it. Have drug testing as part of the hiring process. Make sure everyone knows that the consequences will be severe if drugs are found on the premises or on an individual. Educate your managers and employees on the dangers of drugs -- both physically and professionally.

If your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), let all employees know it is there for them to use. If an EAP is unavailable, help that person find a treatment service or help develop one.

Establish an employee association to set up an anonymous hotline for reporting drug trafficking on the job. That line could also be used by employees who want to get clean but do not know where to go for fear of being arrested.

Finally, examine your own habits. Is a drinking or a recreational drug problem hurting you, your family, your coworkers, or the company you have worked so hard to establish? If you find yourself answering yes to any of these questions, seek help.

Firing these employees is not always the best way to handle the situation. Replacing a normally good employee is costly. Some experts estimate that a salaried person costs up to $7,000 to replace, more than $10,000 to replace a mid-level employee, and over $40,000 to replace a senior executive. So you see, treatment for the abuser is actually good business.

There are facts to back this statement. Recovering addicts are less likely to be involved in crime and more likely to be employed. Your tax bills can actually be lower because helping people stay off drugs saves tax dollars in law enforcement and health services.

Workers in the following occupations report the highest rates of current and past illicit drug use:

Heavy alcohol use followed a similar pattern, although auto mechanics, vehicle repairers, truck drivers and laborers also have high rate of alcohol use (USDHHS, SAMHSA, Drug Use etc., p.1)

Urinalysis for drug use is used to screen job applicants by many of the Nation's largest employers, including major corporations, manufacturers, public utilities, transportation and many small businesses. In general, most companies have an established policy that they will not hire individuals who present positive urine indications current use of illicit substances. However, many of these companies also counsel applicants who fail the drug screen to seek treatment to reapply for employment.

Several recent surveys have collected information on drug testing. These surveys vary in size, target populations, and focus, but together give a picture of the status of testing in business and industry. Overall, 6 surveys have found that from 20-33% of companies surveyed have a drug testing program, with significant differences between companies of different types.

In general, the larger the company, the more likely it is to have a drug testing program. One survey by the American Management Association found:

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