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The dilemma of detoxing the work force.

DESPITE TREMENDOUS EFFORTS TO provide an environment conducive to high productivity, corporations are finding that their walls have been penetrated by the enemy. The enemy is America's destructive drug problem. If history is life's greatest teacher, it has left industry grossly unprepared to face the drug-related challenge at hand.

Historically, crime has been isolated to troubled sectors of the community, easily identified and thus easily avoided. Corporations rarely worried that drug abuse, which used to be primarily a ghetto problem, would ever come inside their walls. Companies could draw their staffs selectively from the surrounding community with a high degree of certainty that individuals would be drug free.

The epidemic nature of the drug problem in America has been underestimated. The effects of the problem are so far-reaching that all sectors of society have been contaminated; there are no safe sectors from which to draw drug-free employees.

It wasn't long before corporations started experiencing low employee morale; decrease productivity; and increased absenteeism, tardiness, and workers' compensation claims. The only probable diagnosis: employee drug abuse.

To fight the problem and reduce the high cost of drug abuse, corporations began implementing drug policies, procedures, and test. During this process, society and corporate America realized that drug users are not bad people but good people who have made bad decisions.

It took years to establish the policies, procedures, and regulations that would determine how employee substance abuse would be addressed. By the time the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) had certified its laboratories and the Department of Transportation had issued the regulations and test cases through the courts, a clear and definite battle plan had been established; but, it may have been too little, too late.

Companies developed and implemented well-written drug and alcohol policies. They included guidelines describing what specific actions and behaviors were acceptable and unacceptable on the job.

Drug testing programs were also implemented. Most companies chose a safe ground by administering preemployment urine tests. Then "for cause" urine tests were implemented. High-risk industries and more aggressive corporations took urine testing to the next level and initiated random urine tests in their organizations.

Many corporations established employee assistance programs (EAPs) to treat employees who had developed drug abuse problems. As drug abuse increased from the early to late 1980s, it was no longer cost-effective for employers to fire employees who had developed addictions.

Based on statistics provide by NIDA, 10 to 23 percent of the work force in the United States use drugs while at work. Another 10 percent of workers have used drugs so heavily the night before that they were still impaired when they returned to work. This means that any given day, 20 to 33 percent of American workers are under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol.

The US Chamber of Commerce estimates that 44 to 50 percent of people entering the work force have used cocaine at least once in the past 12 months. Consequently, the likelihood of companies hiring additional workers from the societal hiring pools without a high incidence of regular drug use and probable addiction are greatly diminished.

As companies increased enforcement efforts to stem drug dealing at work - the supply side - experts quickly discovered that pressure needed to be exerted on the user - the demand side - to effectively reduce and directly affect supply.

The primary tools companies chose to change behavior of both the user and the dealer were training and education. Managers, supervisors, and employees were trained to spot the signs and symptoms of employees who used drugs.

American corporations chose education as a preventive measure to reduce substance abuse within their walls. With this noble attempt to change the behavioral patterns of the drug abuser, not only were those with a sincere desire to become part of the solution educated, but the drug abuser and dealer were also educated.

But in the process of educating responsible people, abusers were inadvertently taught how to reduce and control their use. This led abusers to adapt to new methods of covert use and seek out alternative highs.

Drug users of today also understand the effects of drugs on the body. For example, someone who uses drugs knows that he or she can get high on Friday or Saturday night, then come into the facility and apply for a job on Tuesday or Wednesday. That individual can submit to a preemployment urine screen, and the drug in his or her system will probably not be detected. The end result? A drug user has been hired, beating and rendering the preemployment urine screen ineffective.

Strict collection policies and procedures continue to be difficult to enforce and quality control suffers. In many instances, a urine testing laboratory receives a tainted sample because the person supplying the sample was not observed properly.

How many employees are not offended by close observation while providing a urine sample? How many supervisors or managers are willing to properly and closely observe the worker giving a sample?

As the patterns of substance abuse and drug dealing are studied, a clear pattern can be identified and must be studied if corporate America is to prepare for the storm that lies ahead. Clearly, the patterns of substance abuse are repetitive, but they worsen with each new cycle.

The most alarming activity that forecasts future patterns of abuse is found in the large number of people, particularly young people, who are now consuming alcohol each day. Record numbers of high school students are consuming more alcohol than ever before.

This increase in alcohol consumption is further evidence of minimal effort or ineffective programs that address the reasons why the American worker has a strong appetite for drugs. Not all alcohol abusers progress to other drugs of abuse; but many young abusers of alcohol develop a tolerance and progress to other drugs of abuse.

WHAT CAN CORPORATIONS DO TO PREPARE for the pattern of high substance abuse that will occur in the 1990s? How can they handle the changes that are occurring so rapidly and respond in a preventive manner?

The drug and alcohol policy of any organization is the foundation to combat and maintain a strong position against employee substance abuse and drug dealing.

Each corporation's drug and alcohol policy should be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure it is a sound, legal battle plan that describes in detail any new efforts and changes in management's philosophy. This policy should be the foundation for other comprehensive drug programs as well as a working document.

A corporation's work force should be evaluated for substance abuse. This evaluation can provide tremendous insight into the organization's problems and their severity and dictates any changes in policy and procedures.

Reviewing personnel information to uncover patterns of substance abuse gives the corporation a bird's-eye view of what its needs may be. When everything else fails, a survey should be conducted. And trusted employees should be asked what they see and how often they see it.

It is important that drug testing policies and procedures are reviewed. A Smith Kline Beecham Corporation study found that approximately 8 percent of employees fail urine tests - both preemployment and for cause. This figure represents a decrease from the previous two years. However, it reflects a failure rate that represents new employees and current employees who know that they are going to be tested for illegal drugs.

A review of the collection sight or, more important, an audit of the collection sight, would ensure that the proper techniques and procedures are followed when a urine sample is collected. An unannounced visit or dummy sample will accurately test these techniques.

All corporations should actively implement or adhere to for-cause drug testing. Also, new technology should be examined. In most industries, random urine screening is appropriate. However, all drug testing policies must reflect equality between management and labor.

Leadership is the key word. Drug testing programs should be implemented at the top of the organization first and not at the bottom. Too often corporations abide by a double standard and expect the newest and lower level employees to adhere to rules and regulations for drug testing but never require management and top executives to adhere to them.

A corporation's drug and alcohol policy should allow for and describe methods of detection. These methods notify the work force of management's intention to check for possible employee substance abuse and drug dealing. These methods can include:

* training managers and supervisors to spot the signs and symptoms of drug abuse,

* drug testing,

* dog searches,

* undercover drug investigations,

* surveillance, and

* interviewing techniques.

Corporations tend to be slow in implementing or pursuing methods of detection until obvious symptoms have manifested. When a corporation examines its work force, it is perfectly acceptable and should be expected that the examination tests the success and existence of a drug-free work environment. After all, every valued employee deserves and expects these working conditions.

EAPs should be offered a a vital part of a corporation's drug and alcohol policy. Not all employees who abuse drugs need to be committed to a 30-day, $20,000 in-house treatment program. Drug education and training can be effective for drug abusers who have not developed a pattern of addiction. The recidivism rate is extremely high when an employee is sent off to an EAP without effective follow-up and accountability. EAPs are not going to be the save-all they once were believed to be.

The key to controlling employee substance abuse and drug dealing is to recognize the rapid change that surrounds patterns of employee substance abuse. Adapting to new methods of use, new drugs of abuse, and the manner in which this abuse is concealed will be critical to a company's future success.

Charles R. Carroll is president of Aset Corporation in Dayton, OH.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:corporate drug abuse
Author:Carroll, Charles R.
Publication:Security Management
Date:May 1, 1992
Words:1626
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