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Money lost to addictions: Over $3 billion in losses to Ontario companies annually. (Health).

Businesses in Northern Ontario are losing money because of alcohol and drug addictions among employees, the owner of a drug and alcohol testing company in North Bay says.

"Alcohol, marijuana and cocaine are the top three (addictions) in Northern Ontario," says Greg Demers, who co-owns CannAmm Drug and Alcohol Testing for the Workplace Inc.

On a scale of one to 10, Northern Ontario is a "10 relative to the rest of Canada" in terms of how critical, the situation is, he says.

It is estimated that 10 to 12 per cent of the workplace population is dealing with a substance-abuse problem, resulting in phenomenal losses to companies every year. One, statistic shows $9.2 billion is lost annually in Ontario due to lost workplace production, health care costs and law enforcement.

Rather than help addicted employees, some employers who have alcohol and drug testing conducted in their workplaces are firing those who are testing positive.

This is not only morally wrong, it is illegal, Demers says.

An employer cannot terminate employment based on a positive result of drug or alcohol testing because the employer is then presuming the employee has a handicap, which is what addiction is categorized as. Human rights commission regulations state that an employer has to accommodate a worker with a disability.

"We recommend three strikes," Demers says.

The good news is that statistics show that one-third of people with dependency problems will successfully kick the habit on their first try. One-third do not want help, and the remaining one-third will have at least one relapse, which is normal in recovery, before succeeding.

CannAmm began under the name of Occupational Health Co. in November 1995. It was one of the first in Canada, and was launched by brothers Greg and Bruce Demers. Bruce is currently one of only four, medical review officers in the country.

Brian Smith joined them later, and in May 1996 the company changed its name to CannAmm Drug and Alcohol Testing for the Workplace Inc.

Based in North Bay, its target markets are primarily in Canada and the US. However, staff have travelled to mining operations in Indonesia and Australia to conduct alcohol and drug testing.

The majority of clients come from transportation, mining, forestry, plants and operations, manufacturing and health-care industries.

CannAmm offers a "turnkey operation" service. It conducts the entire testing and reporting process for a company or business which can include the written company policy on substance abuse.

It also provides awareness education to employees and training to supervisors and helps management implement new policies as required. Companies- like CannAmm are responding to the demands of workplaces seeking assistance for these types of problems.

Profiles of substance abusers in the workplace has shown that employees addicted to illicit drugs or alcohol are roughly three-and- one-half times more likely to have a workplace-related accident, and five times more likely to have a worker's compensation claim than a non-addicted employee.

More often than not the addicted person is working at less than 70 per cent of his or her capacity. Yet, too many businesses simply replace, an addicted employee instead of retaining him and providing the support required to battle the addiction.

"They spend big bucks retraining and now they're dealing with an unknown instead of a known," Demers says. "Our philosophy is, remove the substance, keep the individual.

"The employees are your greatest asset. Don't be afraid to invest in them. If they need help, don't fire them, get them help. They're part of your community, part of your company."

And besides, a major employer whose reputation is, one of helping its employees. rather than getting rid of them, particularly one operating in a small town, becomes "a pillar" in that community.

"By saying drugs and alcohol are not healthy and not safe," that company sends a strong message to its community, Demers says, and has the greatest impact on its future citizens -- young people.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Article Details
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Author:Plouffe, Kim-Dominique
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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