The statistics are staggering. The US Surgeon General and the National Safety Council report: nearly 21 million Americans are living with substance addiction, with 75% of those individuals being employed. “One in 13 working adults in the US have an alcohol use disorder” with an estimated $74 billion lost annually from reduced productivity. Prescription drug use, such as opioids, is estimated to account for $25-$53 billion in lost productivity, fluctuating based on industry, salary range, even gender. And the chance of elevated healthcare costs that employers may have to cover increases as people with “opioid dependence spend 5 times as many days in the hospital each and are 4.5 times more likely to visit the emergency room than the general working population.” (1, 2)
Drugs in the Workplace Create a Devastating Cycle
While it’s difficult to calculate the true cost of drug use in the workplace per employer because of varying factors, the NSC and its partners share a wealth of information on how the workplace is affected. One of the main issues indicated is missed time. Workers struggling with substance abuse miss 50% more work than their non-addicted peers, and in some cases up to 3 times as much for users with pain medication addiction. Associated costs to hire and re-train new employees because of the higher likelihood of turnover is also a factor. It is estimated that in higher-wage jobs, for every untreated employee with a substance abuse problem, it can cost employers $4,000 because of the likelihood of that employee leaving their job, with lower-wage industries averaging a little more than $500. For a more in-depth look, the NSC provides a glimpse into potential costs per industry with their introduction of the Substance Use Cost Calculator. (2, 3)
In short, we’ve always known that drug use in the workplace costs time and money. We may not have known just how much, or how many, but the numbers are eye-opening.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
While the statistics look grim at first glance, there is a bright side to this issue plaguing our society. It is estimated that for every employee who is identified and provided with a treatment program, employers can save nearly $3,200. And it is noted that employees in recovery are less likely to miss work than even their non-substance-using counterparts, at 9.5 days with a lower turnover rate at 21% as well.
That is promising news and all the more reason why an organization can take proactive steps to face this challenge head-on. Adopting a policy of testing, monitoring and treating is a decisive first step in addressing this critical issue and thus creating and maintaining a productive work environment.
Test. Monitor. Treat.
A background screening program, inclusive of a comprehensive drug-testing component, is a great start. With a clearly defined drug use policy that implements the latest drug screening procedures, a company will be able to uncover issues upfront and establish the most optimal hiring practices. The Global HR Research (GHRR) suite of drug screening and testing tools covers a wide range of substances, including alcohol, prescription medications, and illegal substances, using sampling tools for saliva, hair and other fluids as well as immunoassay tests.
Employers can customize a drug-screening program using various collection methods, including mobile laboratory units to perform testing. And of course, all tools and methods used are in compliance with legal requirements.
While initial screenings for new hires is a critical point in the procedure, monitoring existing employees is another facet to be addressed. Sometimes this might not be as clear-cut and there are many regulations and compliance issues to take into consideration. However, by working with an expert TPA like GHRR, an organization can develop clear guidelines on how and when to administer employee monitoring, particularly drug testing. Training programs for supervisors, HR policies for reporting suspicious activity, and procedures for evaluating on-the-job accidents and injuries that may have resulted from employee impairment are all elements that need to be clearly defined. GHRR can provide guidelines as well as physical tools such as instant urine, lab-based oral fluid, monitoring tools, and on-site sample collection programs.
Finally, while the main component to combating drug use in the workplace is detection, following up with a company policy on treatment and recovery options can lead to positive results. Using random and reasonable suspicion program deterrents as well as focusing on the well-being of all employees, like with routine Occupational Health Screenings, can contribute to creating a healthier, more productive work environment.
Drug use has unfortunately become a $400 billion expense for the US economy. It has been widely viewed at crisis level for some time now, with national attention dedicated to developing programs to fight this devastating issue. At individual work environments, whether large or small, a TPA can help mitigate drug activity, which hopefully can lead to positive results for the much bigger picture.