Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that over the past 10 years, 10.2 percent of full-time employed adults and 11 percent of part-time working adults are substance abusers. This number comes to approximately 14 million workers. It’s no surprise that marijuana has been the most popular drug, but recently the use of cocaine and ecstasy have declined, however, the use of prescription painkillers has rapidly increased.
Users are a major strain on company resources and productivity. These people tend to have shorter stints in employment, use more sick days, and show up late more often. Talk about return on assets! Moreover, these losers are more likely to cause accidents on the job and of course health care costs are double that of their drug free colleagues because their ‘chronic’ problems require repeat trips to the Doctor’s office and pharmacy.
Over the past 25 years employers have jumped on the bandwagon of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) as a service to help these drug users. By the way, the HR department is generally in charge of overseeing it. An employee with substance abuse problems can use their employer’s provided EAP on their own initiative (but this rarely happens) or if a supervisor’s suggests it. At most companies, if employees fail a random drug test, or one ordered after a finding of reasonable suspicion (like an accident), they are often required to contact the EAP as a condition of employment. It is very likely that if the use of the EAP is not required, most people will not take the initiative to use them.
Even with zero-tolerance and screening policies, employers are accepting the safety risks, productivity losses, and surmounting health care costs that substance-abusing employees bring to work. Why? Because using an EAP is easier than actually trying to solve the problem, and there is a shred of hope that it might work…maybe, but not really.
Using EAPs simply show that an employer is ‘trying’ to help, but the employer knows that EAPs are rarely effective. When selecting an EAP, employers need to be aware of how programs utilize statistics in marketing pitches and decisions in selecting an EAP should never be based solely on price. Very few EAPs produce measurements that offer a clear picture of how well they find and handle substance abuse cases. Therefore, employers need to demand such measurements, because these metrics will enable them to monitor performance. If an EAP can’t provide this, then it would be wise to continue searching.
A well-built EAP can be incredibly effective, but the employer must be committed to using it. It’s a simple choice, and if an employer works to make its EAP accountable and commit to constructive confrontation, an employer will be successful purging a drug culture and rejuvenate the organization.
Paul Hill, Ph.D.
I design, plan, and evaluate economic development programs for Utah State University.
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