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Creating the drug-free workplace.

Alcohol and drug abuse costs American businesses approximately $60 billion per year, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This includes direct and indirect expenses relating to on- and off-the-job accidents, decreased productivity, poor product quality, absenteeism, higher insurance rates, theft and damage to the company's reputation.

According to the institute, nearly two-thirds of those entering the work force admit to illegal drug use, 44 percent during the past year. But studies also show that it's not just illegal drugs wreaking havoc in the workplace. Over-the-counter and prescription drugs are equally damaging.

But now many businesses are combating the problem through drug-free workplace programs. According to the Governor's Commission for a Drug-Free Indiana, there are six essential elements to devising a program:

* the policy, stating that alcohol and drug use will not be tolerated in the workplace;

* education and awareness programs;

* supervisor training;

* employee-assistance programs which could include referral, assessment, follow-up and additional education and training;

* detection, usually through urine-specimen testing;

* evaluation, to determine how well your program works.

Drug-free workplace programs must be tailored to fit within the organization of the company. Some choose to test everyone from temporary employees right on up to the CEO. The Governor's Commission says random testing, reasonable-suspicion testing, accident or unsafe-practice testing, voluntary testing or follow-up/probationary testing are other options companies may choose.

Lincoln National Life Insurance Co. in Fort Wayne instituted a pre-employment drug-testing policy in January 1989, primarily to discourage illegal drug users from applying for jobs.

Tonya Flightner, director of employment services, says, "While we may not be catching high numbers of people, we feel there's a kind of deterrent against people even applying for a job if they know they can't get through the drug screen." Those testing positive are allowed to reapply and be retested after one year.

The company wanted to set a strong example for its clients since it is in the business of paying claims for illnesses and deaths. "It seems to be a very consistent theme for us to support healthy lifestyles," Flightner says, adding that current employees' abuse problems are handled through the company's employee-assistance program, or EAP.

Joe Mills, executive director for the Governor's Commission, says there has been an increase in the number of companies implementing drug-free workplace policies. "I think employers are coming to recognize the fact that they're in competition, not only for their products, but also for employees," he says.

Drug testing is only one component of a drug-free workplace policy. Dr. Michael Evans, CEO of AIT Laboratories in Indianapolis, says that the aim of drug testing is not for the employer to become an extension of the police force.

"The purpose is to create a workplace that is safe and healthy for the employee. It should not be a punitive situation," says Evans, who worked with the federal government in writing drug-testing guidelines during the Reagan era. He says it's a great incentive to get those who may occasionally experiment with week-end drug use to stop entirely.

Preliminary tests range from $20 to $30 per test. A confirmation test (about $50) would be necessary if a person tests positive in the preliminary round. Occasionally, a positive result is triggered by prescription drugs, such as cough medicine with codeine, so it's important to allow the employee a chance to explain before jumping to conclusions. Certified laboratories should be used to ensure accurate results. Companies should use medical staff or an outside contractor for collection.

"Drug testing is not a personnel matter. Drug testing is a medical matter, and confidentiality is essential," says Evans, who has worked with such large companies as Exxon and Amoco.

Employees should date and initial evidence tape used to seal the urine specimen before it's sent to the laboratory. Results should be reported to one individual in the company. If reports are faxed, it's imperative that the laboratory call ahead to confirm that the designated person is available to personally receive the fax.

Evans believes it's important to provide treatment if an employee tests positive. "They have a problem," he says. "They can't get off it by themselves."

EAPs are designed to assist employees with workplace-performance problems. This includes not only substance abuse, but also health, marital, family and financial problems. EAPs can be administered by the company or through outside contractors who specialize in EAP counseling. Expenses for this component of a drug-free workplace policy range from as little as $15 to more than $100 depending on the size of the company and the type of service.

"Virtually every study that's been done on cost-benefit analysis for EAPs shows the dollars invested multiply in benefits to both the employer and the employee," says Mills.

Some provide referrals only to outside agencies, while some do crisis intervention combined with referrals. Jeff Stratton, regional director of the Southwest Regional Office of the Governor's Commission, says most companies with fewer than 250 employees rely on mental-health associations or private EAP companies to administer EAP programs.

Evans stresses that at some point the employer may have to tell the employee to choose between job and addiction. "The biggest carrot in getting people off drugs is their jobs. It's not their family and their loved ones."

Educating the work force also is necessary for a program to be effective. In addition to explaining the policy, an explanation of drugs and their symptoms should be relayed, as well as the effects of drug use on morale, health and costs to the company. Treatment services also should be outlined. These may include the company's employee-assistance program or community agencies. Newsletters, videos, paycheck stuffers and speakers are just a few of the ways to educate employees.

Stratton says it's important to have the support of employees from all levels. "They usually become the best asset in the program itself. Peer pressure in the company is quite often the best stick that we've got."
COPYRIGHT 1994 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Prata, Kathleen
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 1994
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