Magazine article USA TODAY

Drug Testing Is Vital in the Workplace

Magazine article USA TODAY

Drug Testing Is Vital in the Workplace

Article excerpt

DRUG TESTS on the job are nothing new. In January, 1987, 21% of the corporate members of the American Management Association had such a program. With AMA members employing approximately 25% of all workers, such programs are common in Corporate America. It is now time for all businesses to realize that no company is too small to feel the harmful effects of substance abuse or benefit from testing employees for it.

The main reason for the increasing popularity of these programs is one of basic economics--drug abuse simply is too expensive a problem for businesses to ignore. Estimated costs can run as much as $60,000,000,000 a year, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace reports that nearly one-half of executives and high government officials polled placed the expense of drug abuse to their organizations as high as 10% of their annual payrolls.

A typical "recreational" drug user in today's workforce is 2.2 times more likely to request early dismissal or time off; 2.5 times more likely to have absences of eight days or more; three times more likely to be late for work; 3.6 times more likely to be injured or to injure another person in a workplace accident; five times more likely to be involved in an accident off the job, thus affecting attendance and performance on the job; five times more likely to file a worker's compensation claim; seven times more likely to have wage garnishments; and one-third less productive. To these measurable costs are added indirect losses associated with reduced quality of goods and services, low morale, impaired judgment, pilferage, turnover, recruitment and training expenses, employee friction, and diverted supervisory time. In short, drug abuse in the workplace seriously erodes a company's financial standing and reduces its ability to compete in the national and global arenas.

Increasing concerns about the need to work in a safe environment have led employees to become some of the strongest supporters of drug testing. A national study commissioned by the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace found that 97% of the workers polled believed that drug testing is appropriate and "should be done under at least some circumstances," while 26% considered it a necessity. More than 90% supported the testing of airline pilots, those in safety-sensitive jobs, transportation workers, and truck drivers; about three-quarters also favored testing of other occupational areas ranging from health care to general office work.

Support for drug testing is bolstered by the fact that such programs are effective means of fighting substance abuse. In many companies, employers and employees have committed themselves to cooperating to create a drug-free workplace and to help many individuals rid themselves of addictions. As Robert L. DuPont, president of the Maryland-based Institute for Behavior and Health and clinical professor of psychology at Georgetown University School of Medicine, indicates, "The only users who have recovered from their addiction, in my experience, have recovered because someone else cared enough about them to insist that they become drug-free." With an eye on the welfare of their institutions as well as the well-being of their workforce, employers are in a perfect position to care. "I have seen hundreds of drug abusers who have recovered control of their lives because their employers put their employment on the line," DuPont notes.

Other experts agree. "The workplace is perhaps the most effective place to reach people and change their lifestyles," says William F. Current, executive director, The American Council for Drug Education. "Through drug testing and drug education in the workplace, we can create not only drug-free workplaces, but drug-free communities and drug-free families as well."

Recent reductions in the number of American workers testing positive for drug use seem to support the experts' opinions on the effectiveness of such programs. …

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