Workplace Substance Abuse Prevention: Issues and Policies

By Calvasina, Gerald E.; Beggs, Joyce M. et al. | Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues, January 1999 | Go to article overview

Workplace Substance Abuse Prevention: Issues and Policies


Calvasina, Gerald E., Beggs, Joyce M., Jernigan, I. E., Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues


INTRODUCTION

On Mother's Day, May 9, 1999, another substance abuse tragedy occurred in the workplace. On this occasion, the workplace was a bus owned by Custom Bus Charters with 43 passengers on their way to a Mother's Day gambling excursion at a Mississippi casino. Twenty-two of the passengers were killed when the bus plunged down an embankment. After the accident, the drug tests administered to the driver came back positive for marijuana. The debate surrounding the prevention of tragedies like this one continues with employers still searching for ways to prevent them.

A common stereotype is that drug users were male, black, and homeless. Consequently, businesses did not have to be concerned about substance abuse. In fact, 74 percent of drug users are employed outside the home, and eleven percent of employed adults are current illicit drug users. Since many substance abusers are in the workforce, businesses are affected. Therefore, this serious societal problem becomes a workplace problem (Overman, 1999).

As workplace substance abuse incidents become more frequent, the impact of these events has been chronicled. In the workplace itself, the abuse of drugs and alcohol affect the financial bottom-line. Substance abuse exacerbates absenteeism, turnover, employee theft, accidents, product defects, productivity, crime, and violence. The following statistics report the seriousness of the impact of substance abuse for employers:

* U.S. Department of Labor estimates that workplace drug use costs employers $75 to $100 billion annually in lost time, accidents, health care, and workers' compensation costs.

* Sixty-five percent of all accidents on the job are directly related to drugs or alcohol.

* Substance abusers are absent three times more often and use 16 times as many health care benefits as non-abusers.

* Substance abusers are six times more likely than their co-workers to file a workers' compensation claim (Bahls, 1998).

The National Institutes of Health estimate that a drug abuser costs an employer approximately $7,000 annually (Overman, 1999).

The purpose of this paper is to examine current substance abuse issues of which management should be cognizant and to provide the most recent policy and practice suggestions to manage the problems created by workplace substance abuse. The issues to be examined include economic and hidden costs, legal, and employee relations. Practical suggestions for employers to deal with substance abuse are a zero tolerance policy, educational training, and employee assistance programs (EAPs). Other related policy issues are tips on how to deal with employees who report to work unfit, what to do if illegal drugs are found at work, and how to deal with serious drug problems.

WORKPLACE SUBSTANCE-ABUSE ISSUES

The issues of which employers should be aware are categorized as cost, legal, and employee relations. A discussion of each issue category follows.

Cost

The economic costs associated with drugs and alcohol from accidents, health care, and workers' compensation have been increasing. A study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism verify the increased economic costs from 1992 to 1995. The total economic costs of both alcohol and drugs increased approximately 12 percent in this three year period. Not only did the total costs associated with alcohol and drug abuse increase, but the costs also increased in each impact area (see Table 1).

Some of the costs associated with drug and alcohol abuse are more visible and measurable than others. The U.S. Department of Labor developed a list of hidden costs that employers may not normally address (see Table 2).

The assessment process for costs is a difficult and complex task for most organizations. However, monitoring and analyzing these costs over time may be a critical part of developing a substance abuse program in the workplace and of evaluating the effectiveness of the program. …

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