Oct. 16 2017 04:28 PM

With workplace addiction at an all-time high, many landscape contractors are choosing more proactive steps to ensure that their workforce is safe, healthy and productive.

When it comes to substance abuse in the workplace, unfortunately, an accident is often the first clue that a problem exists. And, more often than not, the injured party is not the impaired individual, but an innocent co-worker.

Abuse vs. addiction

Not every substance abuser is an addict. In fact, most are not. They choose to drink too much, take pills, snort cocaine or smoke weed. And many people—including some employers—believe that, off duty, people should be allowed to do whatever they want.

The problem, however, is that off-duty substance abuse has on-duty consequences. For this reason, it is an employer’s concern.

American businesses lose 81 billion dollars per year to drug use—most of which is incurred before a problem is ever suspected.

Substance abuse results in lost concentration, exhaustion and distraction, which chips away at an employee’s performance. Work quality can suffer for months, or even years, before detection.

And employers are paying for it.

What is addiction?

It’s complicated. Essentially, addiction is compulsive use of a substance that is known by the user to be harmful. There are many types of addictions, of course, but we’re focusing on drugs and alcohol here.

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse: “Forty million Americans aged 12 and older—or more than 1 in 7 people—abuse or are addicted to nicotine, alcohol or other drugs. This is more than the number of Americans with heart conditions (27 million), diabetes (26 million) or cancer (19 million).”

That’s huge. And it can affect an employer’s health plan costs, as well as being a safety risk.

What substances are being abused?

While alcohol is still the country’s most abused substance, other powerful, addictive drugs are becoming more and more common. And with the growing trend of marijuana legalization, substance abuse has ballooned into one of the largest medical epidemics that our country faces. Opioids like Vicodin, Percocet and Oxycontin are responsible for an increasing number of workplace accidents, year after year.

And most employers don’t test for these drugs.

It often begins with an injury

It’s known that substance abusers are involved in more accidents and workers comp claims than nonusers; the irony is that a great deal of prescription opiate addition actually begins with an injury.

When a worker is injured, a doctor often prescribes an opioid like oxycodone (e.g., Vicodin or Oxycontin).

It does not take long for a patient to become dependent on a drug like this, and many find themselves addicted. When the prescription runs out, they have a problem; without it, they suffer painful withdrawal symptoms. Many will buy the drugs on the black market, which is expensive. They understand that they have a problem, but are too embarrassed to seek help.

Sadly, some of them eventually turn to heroin, as it provides a similar effect at a fraction of the cost.

This may sound extreme. But it happens more than most of us realize.

Substance abuse costs employers. A lot.

The National Safety Council has published a Substance Use Cost Calculator for employers. If we plug in a few examples, here is what we get for the construction industry. (See chart)

How can I combat addiction within my company?

Many employers are going back to the basics; random drug testing is still the most effective way to keep a place of business drug-free. For some, this raises the concern that they would be violating worker’s privacy; this is actually one of the reasons medical review officers or “MROs” exist. Laws are constantly changing, and ensuring a safe workplace falls on the employer’s shoulders.

A recent article in Psychology Today addressed this shifting view with a few suggestions for employers.

Education: Training employees and supervisors about how to detect the early signs of habitual drug use can be a preemptive strike against workplace disasters.

Reputable EAP programs: EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs) help employees that are struggling with many of the stressors that can lead to addiction, as well as offer access to information on addiction treatment.

Clear policies: Your substanceabuse policy should describe prohibited behavior as well as consequences, and you should have written acknowledgment from each employee.

Access to treatment: Some businesses choose to employ a secondchance policy for employees who fail a drug test. These companies typically offer options to help employees find appropriate treatment. Addiction education is a necessity in today’s workplace, and leaving yourself unprepared for substance-abuse issues within your workforce can quickly damage your bottom line.

Drug testing

If you have employees with commercial drivers’ licenses, then you know they are required to be in a DOT drugtesting program. But DOT testing is only about 20 percent of the drug-testing industry.

Employers drug-test for a number of different reasons. The most common are:

• Pre-employment

• Post accident

• Suspicion

• Random

Certainly, safety is the main reason, but many employers view drug testing as part of their employee health plans. Detecting employees with addiction problems and getting them help is their intent.

Regardless of the reason, more employers are testing than ever before. If you haven’t taken a look at your employee handbook recently, now is a good time. And make sure you have put some serious thought into how you want to deal with substance abuse in your workplace.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tim Thoelecke is the founder and CEO of InOut Labs, a national provider of employee drug testing services that tests employees with the challenges businesses face related to safety and productivity. He is a certified breath alcohol technician trainer and a DATIA-certified professional collector trainer, trained in drug and alcohol testing for DOT and non-DOT businesses.