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Is a drug and alcohol testing program effective and worth the time, effort and cost to implement a comprehensive program.

First, let's look at some facts:

  1. A study of workplace substance abuse revealed that companies that implemented a comprehensive drug-free workplace program (including a formal policy, employee education, access to an EAP and drug testing) resulted in an approximately 50% lower positive drug test rate.
  2. A study of companies engaged in random drug testing in combination with pre-employment testing reduced their mean workers' compensation claims per 100 employees per year by 63.7% over a 4 year period while the "control group" of employers (employers not conducting drug testing), experienced a 19% increase during that same period.
  3. A study of applicants for US Postal Service employment determined that applicants testing positive for drugs were 66% more likely to be absent and 77% more likely to be discharged within 3 years of hire than applicants testing negative for illicit drugs.
  4. The most recent results of the Quest Drug Test Index© (Quest Diagnostics is one of the largest drug testing laboratories in the US.) state that the U.S. workforce positive drug test results have declined nationwide, from a high of 13.6% in 1988 when many companies first started implementing drug testing programs to a low of 4.5% in 2003, when over 67% of employers conduct drug testing.

How about alcohol?

In a recent study, rates of current alcohol use were 61.8 % for full-time employed adults aged 18 or older. Rates for "binge" drinkers were 29% and 8.4% for heavy drinkers (those considered alcohol dependent). Additionally many more employees drink to a lesser degree.

  1. A common misconception is that alcoholics are responsible for most alcohol-related workplace problems when, in fact, casual drinkers account for far more incidents of absenteeism, tardiness, and poor quality of work than the alcohol dependent.
  2. A "light to moderate" drinker (one who sometimes binges, i.e., typically has 6 or more drinks) is likely to report to work "hungover." Hangovers are costly to employers in both absenteeism and poor job performance; plus, hangover-related health problems include an elevated risk of heart attacks, reduced cognitive abilities, and irrational behavior.
  3. Studies reporting on the secondhand effects of alcohol use found 1 in 5 workers report being injured, having to cover for a co-worker, or needing to work harder due to other employees' drinking. Nearly one-third of workers who consider their jobs to be dangerous report experiencing "secondhand" alcohol effects.
  4. Alcohol-related job performance problems are caused not only by on-the-job drinking but also by heavy drinking outside of work. Although obvious, it is important to state that there is a positive relationship between being "hungover" and feeling sick at work, sleeping on the job, and having problems with job tasks or co-workers. [A telling example: Among pilots whose performance was tested in flight simulators, researchers found evidence of impairment 14 hours after pilots reached blood alcohol concentrations of between 0.10-0.12 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), and significant impairment 8 hours after reaching a BAC of 0.10.]

Is Drug and Alcohol Testing Worth the Cost? The facts are irrefutable! One only has to look at the dramatic reduction in positive drug test rates between 1988 when employers first started drug testing and 2003 when over 67% of employers test. The positive rate was 13.6% in 1988 and it was down to 4.5% in 2003.

There are five critical components of an effective drug-free workplace program-Drug-Free Workplace Policy, Supervisor Training, Employee Education, Employee Assistance and Drug/Alcohol Testing. Each one of these components is, in fact, critical and complementary. Drug/alcohol testing provides the following benefits:

  1. Pre-employment Drug Testing goes a long way toward "weeding" out those individuals who are chronic/habitual drug users.
  2. Random Drug and Alcohol Testing serves as a deterrent and is the major factor in helping to ensure existing employees remain drug free. The vast majority of employees value their job and, when confronted with a random drug/alcohol testing program, will choose to remain drug free and non-alcohol dependent.
  3. Reasonable Suspicion Drug and Alcohol Testing identify individuals in the workplace that are clearly "under-the-influence" and provides a tool to remove them from the workforce. All identifications must be made by trained supervisors.
  4. Post-Accident Drug and Alcohol Testing identifies individuals who were under-the-influence at the time of an accident or incident.

Lastly, a comprehensive Drug-Free Workplace Program helps ensure a more productive and safer work environment. It saves money for the employer through the increased productivity and reduces liability by demonstrating a commitment to a safer environment for both workers and the public.

Gary L. Glisan
Superior Training Solutions, Inc.

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