Employers: 12 Substance Abuse Policies and Procedures That Save Lives and Your Bottom-Line

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A common assumption many people have about those struggling with substance use disorder is that they are unemployed. This is due to media stigma and depiction of those who use substances. However, addiction and substance misuse is common for those in the workforce. A National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted in 2013 found that 68.9% of those who use illicit drugs are employed. Given this statistic, it’s incredibly likely that someone in an employer’s workplace does use substances and might have an addiction.  

While most workplaces have a basic drug policy, it’s crucial to look at the policy and determine if it’s really helping the business and the bottom line. Basic policies can be somewhat effective, but they aren’t always great at keeping down business expenses and helping employees who might be dealing with something difficult.

The Cost of Substance Misuse in the Workplace

Substance misuse and addiction can have monetary and metaphorical costs for employers and employees. Addiction can contribute to loss of productivity, workplace accidents, low morale, employee absenteeism, high turnover, and most importantly, the loss of human life. One in ten deaths among working adults is alcohol-related.

As far as monetary cost, it can depend on the industry. Different industries have higher substance use, alcohol dependency, and addiction rates. Some of the top industries with the highest percentage of substance use disorder include construction at 14.3% and entertainment at 12.9%. Business industries such as retail trade and wholesale trade average out to a 10.5% rate of substance use. The rate of substance use in the management industry is at 11.4%. Each of these industries is higher than the national average at just under 10%.

A higher addiction rate can mean higher healthcare costs and higher insurance premiums. An employer who offers health coverage might pay $1,729 per year for an employee without a substance use disorder. Employees with substance use disorder could cost around $2,197 annually. The cost for an employee with a pain medication use disorder can cost as much as $5,586 annually, according to data published by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

These numbers alone aren’t factoring in the cost of missed work and turnover rates. For example, in manufacturing, the extra annual cost caused by missed work due to pain medication abuse is $14,830 per capita. The cost of turnover due to substance use is $4,000 on average, but that number can increase depending on that industry’s wages and turnover rate.

Why You Should Have Substance Abuse Policies and Procedures

Most workplaces have a drug policy to some extent. If you have a small business or are starting one up, you might not be familiar with the law or insurance policies. Having a policy might seem like an unnecessary expense or a hassle, but creating a solid policy can save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

It’s the Law

One of the most important reasons to create a policy is to avoid legal trouble. Drug abuse policies are required by federal laws in specific industries that are considered safety and security-sensitive. This can include jobs that deal with heavy machinery, public transportation, or handling hazardous materials.

Other laws that a company should be familiar with include the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Family, and Medical Leave Act, and the National Labor Relations Act. These laws protect workers’ civil rights, such as privacy and protection against discrimination. These laws are essential to consider when writing a policy because they can limit the lengths you can legally go to investigate potential drug use or what consequences are appropriate.  

Clear Policies Promote Workplace Safety

A policy-free workplace only opens the company up to injury and liability. A worker could have a fatal workplace accident or overdose on the job. Drug use on the job can also affect the worker’s performance, mental health, and even physical health. Writing a clear and concise policy can mitigate these dangerous effects, creating a safer workplace atmosphere.

What Your Policy Should Focus On

A progressive and effective substance abuse policy should focus on legal requirements, prevention, education, and resources. Ideally, it should also prioritize treatment over punitive measures, treating addiction as a health issue rather than a “criminal” issue. Some policies and procedures you should include are:

#1. Reduce Risks That Can Cause or Worsen Substance Use and Addiction

Workplace conditions can sometimes feed into substance use and addiction. Substance use and addiction are often caused by stress, burnout, lack of motivation, or anxiety. It’s common for people to develop an addiction after using alcohol or illicit drugs to self-medicate. For example, a person might feel overwhelmed by all of the work they need to do, and as a result, they take stimulants in order to keep up. Perhaps a person feels burned out after a long workday and drinks too many alcoholic beverages at the end of their shift. Another person may have experienced a workplace accident, and they now take opiates which can be highly addictive. All of these people can develop addictions to cope with these conditions.

An employer can help reduce these risks by assessing how their workload impacts their bottom line. Checking in with your employees can be a great start. Delegating tasks can prevent a worker from being over-encumbered. Other options can include offering paid time off, sufficient breaks, and wellness programs. Creating an environment that tackles the issues of stress, motivation, and burnout can address addiction long before it becomes a problem.

#2. Address Stigma Around the Workplace About Addiction

A major reason people wait to get help for addiction is a fear of judgment and punishment from their bosses and co-workers. They might hesitate to disclose an addiction to a co-worker because they are afraid the co-worker might tell their boss or change the way they feel about them. A person with an addiction might be afraid that they will lose their job if they need to leave for rehab. Instead of getting the help they need, they avoid treatment until their addiction becomes far more serious and more difficult to heal from.

There are many myths, misunderstandings, and incorrect judgments we make about addiction and those who have one. We often feel like it’s their fault or that there’s something morally wrong with them. The actual truth is that addiction isn’t a morality issue; it’s a health issue. A person with an addiction shouldn’t be judged any more than a person who might be dealing with a heart condition. These stigmas should be unlearned in the workplace, and instead, trust should be established.

#3. Healthcare Benefits That Include Substance Use Treatment by Default

Full-time employers often offer their employees health insurance that includes things like medical, vision, and dental. Unfortunately, many workplaces only include substance use treatment as an add-on. Finances should never be a barrier to treatment. However, unfortunately, it can be. In order to help your bottom line, substance use treatment shouldn’t be a premium add-on but included by default. This keeps your employees safe in the event that they do develop an addiction and need to seek treatment.

#4. Substance Use Training for Supervisors and Managers

Losing an employee due to addiction can be costly, which is why supervisors and managers need to spot substance use before it becomes a problem. An employee might be required to take a drug test after experiencing a workplace accident, and if they test positive, they might lose their job. At the end of the day, the accident still happened, and the company lost an employee.

Training supervisors and managers to spot substance use can allow both the employer and employee to solve the problem before it becomes detrimental to the company. If a manager suspects substance use due to decreased performance, they can have a performance review which can give the employee a chance to disclose a substance use problem if they choose to. Training for supervisors and managers should teach them what signs to look for and what they can and can’t ask an employee.

#5. Workplace Education About Substance Use and Addiction

Another prevention tool includes informing your employees about substance use and addiction. While there has been some education in schools about substance use and addiction, it doesn’t tell the entire story. Vital facts about what is addictive, how addiction affects their body, and who is most at risk are left out of the narrative. Instead, people use stigma and myth to fill the gaps.

A person might be uninformed about how easy it is to develop alcohol dependency. They might not be aware that addiction can run in the family or result from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health disorders. They might not know that addiction can result from stress, isolation, and grief- factors that have become increasingly relevant as people continue working from home. A person even knowing these things can work as a wake-up call for someone in denial about their own addiction.

#6. Confidential Screenings for Substance Use and Addiction

Employers should include a screening tool or test that can help identify addiction or the development of addiction. A screening tool is a test a person can take that asks a series of questions that cover a person’s normal weekly or monthly use and behaviors. These tools should be completely confidential so that the person feels comfortable answering honestly. If a person’s results indicate a possible addiction, they should be able to talk to a counselor or human resources without fear of negative consequences. The key is to help your employee without violating their safety or privacy.

#7. Have an Employee Assistance Program

An employee assistance program (EAP) helps employers provide their employees with resources. What is available depends on the program, but the idea is that your employee can receive the help they need before things become dire. An employee should have easy and confidential access to these resources. EAPs can offer assistance for counseling, social workers, substance use treatment, legal help, elder care referral, stress management, and wellness programs.

These resources can offer your employees support when they might feel isolated, overwhelmed, or lost. Instead of feeling alone, they can reach out for help. If your company doesn’t have an EAP, consider developing one. Additionally, if your workplace does have an EAP, evaluate what should be added to it.

#8. Hold a Drug Take-Back Event

A drug take-back event is another tool of prevention you can use in your workspace. Drug take-back events can be a great way to connect with your community and decrease harmful substance use. These events can be hosted alongside other events, such as electronic or battery recycling, food can drives, document shredding, or as a part of a wellness fair. These events give employees an opportunity to drop off expired or unused prescription drugs, which often contribute to prescription drug misuse and addiction.

#9. Consider Drug Testing

While some employees might dislike drug testing, there can be many benefits to incorporating this as a part of your policies. How you test depends on cost and resources. Standard testing methods include a saliva swab, hair test, or urine test. Drug testing in the workplace is common, but what might differ is the consequences of testing positive for a drug test and its context. Drug testing can be a useful way to ensure workplace safety before an accident happens. Including drug testing in your policy can also lower insurance premiums.

#10. Offer Rehabilitation and Substance Use Training as an Option

Unfortunately, it’s more common for a company to have a zero-tolerance policy for substance use. A person might fail a drug test and face termination no matter the circumstances. The policy doesn’t consider if the person was under the influence off the clock or if it was a first-time violation. It ignores that substance misuse and addiction are health issues, not a moral or criminal issue. Your employee isn’t using substances because they are a bad person. In fact, they are most likely using it as a way to cope with factors in or outside work. Losing a job only contributes to their addiction or substance misuse because now they are unemployed and without the income, they need to survive.

Instead of a zero-tolerance policy, consider offering substance use treatment or rehabilitation over termination. A person can receive help for their substance use instead of losing their job. If they continue using substances after, you can consider other consequences, including termination. This allows them a chance to get the help they need instead of losing everything.

#11. Create Support Groups for Those in Recovery

Your substance abuse policy should also consider those in treatment for substance use. Workplace culture can enable relapse. Bosses and co-workers might invite someone they don’t know is in recovery out for drinks. A person in recovery might relapse due to work pressure. They might also feel alone in their experience as a person in recovery. Offering a support group for those in recovery or outpatient treatment can give them the network they need. Support groups can work as a safe and confidential space to share feelings, fears, and experiences with others who have been in their shoes.

#12. Have Naloxone On-Site

Unfortunately, this is very uncommon, but it can literally save lives. Naloxone is a medication that rapidly reverses the effects of opioid overdose. Since opioids are commonly prescribed as medication, and in the past two years, they have skyrocketed in illegal sales and overdoses. In 2020, it was reported that 68,630 in that year alone. Having naloxone on hand and training supervisors, co-workers, and employees on how to use it as a part of emergency training can save lives. 

It’s often underestimated how common addiction can be for those in the workplace. By designing your policies and procedures around prevention, treatment, and recovery, you can save money and most importantly save your employees’ lives. The country is facing an opioid addiction epidemic, with use and overdose skyrocketing in the last couple of years alone. Substance misuse can lead to workplace accidents, poor mental health, and loss of production. By advocating for your employees and offering them resources and support even before it becomes a problem, you are reducing the monetary cost, as well as the cost of losing a life. White House Recovery And Detox works hard to help those dealing with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders in the LA area. If you or your employee is struggling with addiction, reach out to us today at (800) 510-5393