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The war in the workplace.


OUR NATION IS BATtling a war against drugs. Increasing numbers of crimes occur as the demand for and use of illegal substances soar. The fabric of our society is threatened.

Heightened concern has caused many organizations to formulate plans to combat the menace drug abuse imposes on our society. Included in this group is the FBI. One of the FBI's highest priorities is to enforce federal drug laws. In April 1988, the FBI also initiated a drug demand reduction program in each of its 58 field offices. Each field offices has a special agent who serves as a drug demand reduction coordinator. His or her responsibilities encompass a broad arena of activities to fight the war against drugs.

These agents concentrate their efforts in the schools, the community, and the workplace. While schools offer excellent opportunities to provide substance abuse prevention education, and while community intervention is an integral part of fighting the abuse problem, the environment that experiences the most immediate effect of drug abuse is the workplace.

Drug use is most prevalent among young adults--a segment of our population now entering the work force. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that the cost of drug abuse to employers ranges from $70 billion to $75 billion annually, with losses attributed to reduced productivity, absenteeism, accidents, health care, theft, and prevention and treatment programs. NIDA statistics also indicate that as many as 23 percent of workers in the United States use dangerous drugs on the job, and, of those entering the full-time work force for the first time, 65 percent have had experience in illicit drug use. Research from the Department of Labor (DOL) indicates a cocaine user is typically well educated and well paid, an individual likely to have a professional, white-collar position.

These facts can no longer be ignored by businesses, small or big. Drugs are pervasive in the workplace. However, drug use by employees outside the workplace also can affect their performance in the workplace. Either way, accidents happen, losses are incurred, judgment is clouded, productivity runs low, and risks run high.

Some employers may deny that their employees have a substance abuse problem. However, substance abuse is often a hidden problem. To determine whether an organization has a drug abuse problem, DOL suggests the following actions:

* Identify indicators of substandard performance, such as increases in accidents, theft and property losses, and absenteeism.

* Unite representatives from various units within the organization to discuss the possibility of a substance abuse problem.

* Gather workers' views on the problem (if a problem exists) and whether it is undermining health, safety, and security in the workplace.

* Obtain national, state, or local statistics regarding workplace substance abuse.

* Assess the damage exacted by drugs in the workplace by comparing the substance abuse data with the workers' views and opinions.

Once an organization has decided that a substance abuse problem exists, it should set a goal to achieve a drug-free workplace. Steps to achieve this goal include

* commitment to a drug-free workplace by both management and employees,

* policy development and communication of this policy to employees,

* drug prevention education and training of personnel,

* identification of drug users,

* rehabilitation,

* disciplinary action, and

* follow-up evaluations.

Once the commitment has been made, a formal, written company policy statement on drug abuse in the workplace should be issued to employees, explaining the company's commitment to a drug-free work environment and plans to achieve this goal.

Vital to accomplishing the company's goal of a drug-free workplace is the education and training of personnel. Educating present employees about the dangers of drug abuse and training supervisors to detect symptoms of drug abuse are necessary. Prospective employees should be made aware of the company's drug-free goal and that employment would be contingent on their being drug free. In many businesses and agencies, applicants are now tested for drug use prior to employment.

Through trained supervisors, those employees suffering from substance abuse can, in some cases, be identified. Confidentiality and discretion are two key elements in the identification of abusers, especially if a drug testing policy is implemented. Drug testing is still a major item of debate. Whether a company chooses to instill drug testing in its screening process is a matter of choice, although more and more companies are adopting drug testing programs. According to NIDA, 20 percent of US companies are testing workers currently on the job, up from 3 percent in 1984. Several recent surveys found that 20 to 33 percent of companies surveyed have drug testing programs, with larger companies leading in the adoption of such programs.

Rehabilitation in a drug-free workplace can be provided through an employee assistance program (EAP). EAPs were first introduced in the 1940s to address the problem of alcohol abuse in the workplace. Today, over 10,000 EAPs in operation across the country address a wider range of employee issues, and the services provided by EAPs are typically free. The ultimate goal of the programs is rehabilitation so employees can be retained, thereby eliminating the costs of retraining new employees.

In 1984, AT&T and the Communication Workers of America jointly administered an EAP, which cost AT&T $1.3 million. However, it saved the company $3.3 million. More importantly, the job retention rate for employees using the EAP was 97 percent. According to DOL, employers in general find that for every dollar they invest in an EAP, they save from $5 to $16. The average annual cost for an EAP ranges from $12 to $20 per employee.

Larger companies are more likely to have internal EAPs, sometimes established in conjunction with unions and employee organizations. For smaller companies, these services may be contracted through external EAP providers. No matter how an EAP is designed, its success will depend on the quality of the staff, guaranteed confidentiality, and the commitment of those responsible for its effective operation.

A means of discipline must also be a component of a company's drug-free policy. Records of an employee's work performance should be updated regularly. While it is in the best interests of a company to rehabilitate and retain trained employees, employees who refuse rehabilitation, pose significant risks to safety and security, are unable to perform their jobs due to illegal drug use, or are selling drugs on the job should be dismissed. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, a survey of drug users seeking rehabilitation revealed that 75 percent of them used drugs on the job, 64 percent admitted that drugs adversely affected their job performance, 44 percent said that they sold drugs to other employees, and 18 percent admitted stealing from other employees to support their drug habits. With these figures in mind, the detrimental effects on the company and co-workers can be far more damaging than the expense incurred in the loss of a trained employee.

The company must have follow-up evaluations of both the rehabilitated employees and the program itself to ensure the reliability of the program and its degree of success. Enforcement of the company's drug-free policy must be continually stressed.

It is evident that organizations ignoring substance abuse problems can suffer economically and legally. Employers must give serious consideration toward establishing a drug policy that includes drug prevention education and training of personnel, a drug testing program, and an EAP service to rehabilitate employees abusing drugs.

Our country's greatest national asset is its people--its workers. Companies have an obligation to make their organizations safe for their workers. Efforts must be taken by corporations and businesses to rid the workplace of drugs. All the agencies mentioned here, including the FBI, can lend assistance in initiating programs to stop drug abuse. Through motivation, cooperation, communication, and trust, we will win the war against drugs.

PHOTO : FBI Director William S. Sessions describes steps necessary to achieve a drug-free

PHOTO : workplace.

William S. Sessions is the director of the FBI in Washington, DC. Before that position, Sessions was US district judge for the western district of Texas and then chief judge of that court.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Sessions, William S.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Aug 1, 1989
Previous Article:Watt's up with your security survey?
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