If you think your workplace is drug-free, the government has a surprise for you. Chances are you’re wrong—very wrong. According to the latest survey, one out of every 12 U.S. workers uses illegal drugs. That’s self-reported illegal drug use among adults working full-time—and just those who admit they’ve used illicit substances within the last 30 days.
The information comes from the latest study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, an agency within the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The agency surveyed both public and private employees over a three-year period and found that 8.2% had used illegal drugs in the past 30 days.
That’s up from earlier surveys. In 1994, just 7.6% used illegal drugs, and in 1997, the rate was 7.7%.
Most employees who admitted drug use said marijuana was their drug of choice.
What may be even more shocking are the rates of drug use by profession. About 4% of teachers and social workers admitted to illegal drug use. Among construction workers, over 15% indulged.
The prize for the highest rate of illegal drug use goes to… restaurant workers, 17.4% of whom said they had used drugs in the last month.
The survey results reveal other patterns. Younger employees are more likely to use illegal drugs, and use drops as workers get older. The percentage using illegal drugs in the past month, by age:
- 19% of 18-25 year-olds
- 10.3% of 26-34 year-olds
- 7% of 35-49 year-olds
- 2.6% of 50-64 year-olds.
Illegal drug use is most prevalent among men, who account for two-thirds of users.
The survey also looked at alcohol abuse. Slightly over 10 million full-time employees reported they were heavy drinkers—defined as having five or more drinks during one session at least five times in the past 30 days.
What employers can do: Drug and alcohol abuse significantly affect performance, productivity, safety, workers’ compensation claims and health insurance costs, so it’s in your interest to adopt appropriate policies.
On the other hand, you must be careful about approaching employees you suspect have a drug or alcohol problem since the ADA limits how you handle disabilities. For example, binge drinking may or may not be an indication of a disability—alcoholism. And if you treat an employee as if she is disabled when she is not, you may be “regarding” her as disabled, putting her under the protection of the ADA.
Your best bet is to design a solid drug and alcohol policy, prohibiting use or intoxication at work. Then focus on performance, not use. It’s always safer to discipline employees for.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t consider a good testing program for both applicants and current employees. Just make sure you adopt a well-designed program and use a reliable and dependable testing lab.
For more information on developing a drug-free workplace, see HR Specialist’s white paper “Drugs in the Workplace.” It contains a list of warning signs that an employee may have a drug problem, as well as guidelines on developing anti-drug abuse and drug-testing policies. Also provided is a sample policy you can adapt for your workplace.
Additional employer assistance is available from the government at www.drugfreeworkplace.gov.
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