smoking a joint at work

Workplace Challenges In A Drug-Friendly Culture

Gina Kesler Drug testing

Drug and alcohol use and abuse in the United States is higher than it’s ever been. It is a national epidemic and its affecting families, businesses, schools, healthcare, etc. every hour of every day.

The largest increases in use and misuse are marijuana and prescription painkillers. Approximately 26 million Americans age 18 and older are current illicit drug users. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports more than 700,000 fatalities due to drug overdose from 1999-2017. Drug overdose is the leading cause of injury death – 63,000 lives were lost due to drug overdose in 2016 alone.

We are seeing an increase in drug abuse in the workplace across the spectrum. Mainly cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine and prescription drug abuse.

Societal costs of substance abuse are just one of the effects devastating the US. Alcohol costs the United States about $249 Billion and drug abuse is costing $193 Billion. Total costs to the U.S. taxpayers is estimated at $442 Billion. Pro marijuana legalization bills are prolific, with several angles looking to federally legalize marijuana.

Nationwide messaging socializing and normalizing the use of pot has influenced young people’s attitudes. Surveys find the general opinion among youth think MJ is safe. The damage has resulted in generations raised in a drug-friendly culture. Young people are entering the workforce with the belief that the use of impairing substances is a personal right. This stance needs to be challenged by employers.

Reducing The Costs Of Workplace Employee Drug Testing

Employers have seen a sharp increase in the number of new hires that test positive for drugs. NCADD says that 70% of the 14.8 million Americans who abuse drugs are employed. Considering the societal cost, employers are hit the hardest – a staggering $81 Billion dollars per year. This figure includes, but is not limited to higher turnover, more sick days used, accidents, worker’s comp claims, tardiness, etc. So much of this waste is preventable.

Employers cannot sacrifice safety and well-being in the workplace for fear of violating personal rights. Employers have solutions that cultivate a safe and drug-free workplace and must not be bullied into thinking they do not.

Every workplace has a duty and obligation to maintain a safe work environment for employees, customers, vendors, and the general public. A drug-free workplace program has the best chance of success when 5 elements are specified, regularly practiced, and updated.

These 5 elements are:

  • Substance Abuse Policy
  • Supervisor training and education
  • Employee education
  • Employee drug testing program for drugs and alcohol
  • Resources for employees that need help with their substance problems

A strong policy that can be managed consistently with all employees is a must. A policy serves two purposes: clearly states what is expected of all employees by the company and its officials while setting proper boundaries in a variety of areas; and can be the encouragement an employee needs that may be struggling with a substance abuse problem to seek help.

This is the guiding force for everyone in the organization. A defined policy provides protection in the event of a legal claim and outlines the program to be practiced.

What it means and how to use it as a guide to managing employees’ safety ensures consistency and confidence within management. Supervisors should be trained to identify the signs and symptoms of workplace drug and alcohol abuse, for reasonable cause situations.

Supervisors and managers need thorough training on the policy and the program in order to manage employees against substance abuse issues. What it means and how to use it as a guide to managing employees’ safety ensures consistency and confidence within management.

Supervisors should be trained to identify the signs and symptoms of workplace drug and alcohol abuse, for reasonable cause situations. Supervisors likely don’t get hired possessing years of experience on drugs of abuse, the signs to look for and how to deal with it. One-time training won’t stick either. Training for reasonable cause should be an annual event as it takes practice, diligence and updates.

Employee Drug Testing & Training

Employees need to be regularly educated on policies and have a clear understanding of what’s tolerated and what is not. One can’t expect employees to follow company policy if they aren’t educated on it. Statistics show over and over that a successful program requires regular and proactive drug and alcohol testing. Education at hire marks a great start to their understanding that the workplace discourages drug and alcohol use. Reminders of policy during safety meetings, employee rallies, or company town halls is a great way to remind staff of the importance of a substance-free culture.

Screening potential job applicants for drugs prior to hiring them uncovers the many who are clean, while deterring those are not. However this doesn’t mean abusers won’t try to apply.

Qualified professional collectors are a key weapon in detecting those attempting to cheat the system. Testing under reasonable cause, both after an incident as well as on a random basis, is an effective deterrent. It minimizes the likelihood of substance abuse while at work, or the temptation to bring drug paraphernalia to work. Employers may want to hire or have access to an industry expert or an association to understand the types of testing options available which can help everyone involved under different circumstances. As trends change, so does industry standards. What worked 5 years ago may not be the best solution now.

Finally, it’s important to provide a resource that employees can contact in the event they have a problem. This could include benefits within a health insurance program or an employee assistance program. Or it could be a simple list of hotlines, encouraging an employee to help themselves. Offering such assistance while showing compassion and dignity continues to build trust within the company.

Implementing An Effective Drug Testing Program Is Easier Than You Think

Developing and managing a program is not hard, nor expensive. Finding the right mix for your company and its culture is the key to success. Guidance from an industry expert makes that part much easier.

Of course there are more details that need addressing than can be discussed in an article. But logic and flexibility, mixed with an understanding of your business, is all that is needed.

For more on this topic please come see us in Phoenix, AZ on October 15th at the Arizona Chapter National Safety Council’s 2019 Southwest Safety Congress. Click here to register.