Part 1: A Look at Workplace Substance Abuse

It's little surprise that 18- to 34-year-olds are at the heart of a nationwide increase in illegal drug use, and the manufacturing industry traditionally draws heavily from this pool of job seekers.

That's one reason for September's observance of the 10th National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month. This year's theme is "Addiction Treatment: Investing in People for Business Success." The event is sponsored by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Lost productivity, high employee turnover, low employee morale, mistakes and accidents, and increased workers' compensation insurance and health insurance premiums are results of untreated substance abuse problems in the workplace. That's why the monthlong effort is aimed at highlighting the benefits gained from corporate and small-business substance abuse referral programs.

"The effects of substance abuse are not just measured in terms of lost job productivity, they are also measured in destroyed lives and shattered families," said SAMHSA Administrator Nelba Chavez, Ph.D. "Whether you are a corporate CEO or a small-business owner, you need to know that simple, effective steps -- including ready access to treatment, workplace policies and employee education -- can lower substance abuse and its human and economic effects in your business."

Recovery Month recognizes tremendous strides taken by individuals who have undergone successful treatment and salutes those in the field who have dedicated their lives to helping people in need.

The month also is designed to draw attention to how costly drug abuse is for workers and businesses. A National Institute on Drug Abuse-sponsored survey showed that drug-using employees are 3.6 times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident and 5 times more likely to file a workers' compensation claim.

Other statistics about drugs and alcohol in the workplace:

  • Of nearly 14 million Americans who are illicit drug users, about three-quarters are employed, according to the August 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
  • Construction workers (15.6 percent), laborers (10.6 percent) and machine operators and inspectors (10.5 percent) are among those with the highest rate of illicit drug use, based on an HHS analysis in 1997.
  • More than 14 percent of Americans employed full- and part-time report heavy drinking, which is defined as five or more drinks on five or more days in the past 30 days, a 1996 HHS survey revealed. The heaviest drinking occurred among persons between the ages of 18 and 25, which makes up much of the manufacturing work force.
  • Occupational categories with above-average rates of heavy alcohol use include construction (20 percent), handlers, helpers and laborers (15.7 percent), machine operators and inspectors (13.5 percent) and precision production workers (13.1 percent).
  • Specific durable-goods industries with the highest illegal drug use, according to a 1996 HHS report, were lumber and wood products (8.9 percent current drug use and 12 percent heavy alcohol use) and metal products (21.4 percent past-year drug use). Among nondurable goods, the industries with the highest drug use were printing and publishing (11.7 percent current use and 24.6 percent past-year use) and chemical products (9.5 percent heavy alcohol use).
  • According to a national survey conducted by the Hazelden Foundation, more than 60 percent of adults know people who have gone to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In 1990, problems resulting from the use of alcohol and other drugs cost U.S. businesses an estimated $81.6 billion in lost productivity due to premature death ($37 billion) and illness ($44 billion), HHS reported. Of these combined costs, 86 percent were attributed to drinking.

Alcoholism causes 500 million lost workdays each year, according to a National Association of Treatment Providers white paper.

Please return to occupationalhazards.com on Thursday, Sept. 2 for a look at what you and your workplace can do to stem the tide of substance abuse.

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