Save the Employee; Lose the Habit

You may be unknowingly funding a drug habit.

The reality is that over 77 percent of all U.S. adults with substance abuse issues are employed full or part time, according to annual trends revealed by The Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA).

That, of course, poses a substantial health and safety risk to your own organization.  In fact, SAMSHA reports that impaired workers are 3.6 times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident and five times more likely to make a workers’ comp claim.

If you offer substance abuse counseling or assistance, that’s great.  But don’t stop there.  Be certain to reinforce the program’s confidentiality.  Assurance of anonymity will encourage an at-risk employee to follow through.

Another important element to combat drug abuse is establishment of a drug-free workplace policy. This proactive approach not only reduces possible liability, but may also lead to discounts on workers’ comp premiums (and it’s mandatory if you apply for any federal, and many state, programs or grants).

Any drug-free policy should be based on some basic principles:

  • Abuse extends beyond illegal drugs.  Be sure to include prescription or over-the-counter drugs along with alcohol (the number one drug abused in the U.S.)
  • Drug testing should not be the primary deterrent.  Seek to change acceptance levels and attitudes.
  • Treat employees as an investment, not a line-item cost. Your long-term goal should be to keep their talents, while losing the substance abuse. Focus on rehabilitation rather than termination.
  • Supervisors must be trained, not only to spot abuse, but to effectively manage initial confrontation and follow up.
  • Benefits and treatment options need to be understood-before they’re needed. Treat substance abuse as a health issue, as one you want to help solve.
  • An ongoing dialogue is most effective. What isn’t an issue for an employee first go-around may quickly explode into a full-blown crisis in a matter of months.  Make sure you’re still talking when they’re receptive.

For more ideas on creating a new drug-free workplace policy or to evaluate an existing policy, check out the Department of Labor website, going specifically to