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Implementing Drug Screening Program Can Cut Costs

The Business Ledger (Chicago)

If your employer is like most employers, you’re very interested in reducing expenses.

One quick way to save thousands of dollars a year is to implement a drug screening program-or to maximize the one you already have.

Drug and alcohol abuse cost
U.S. employers $81 billion each year, according to the Department of Labor. It is responsible for lost work time, poor productivity, accidents and soaring health care and workers’ compensation costs. It also creates a dangerous work environment.

The fact is, 77 percent of America’s 12 million adult drug abusers are employed, or 8.2 percent of all full-time employees. You can bet they don’t leave their problems at home.

But the real question is: how many of them work for you? Don’t wait to find out the hard way.

Bad for Business: Drugs in the Workplace

In some industries, like manufacturing and transportation, the impaired judgment of drug users can cost lives. But dangers exist in white collar industries, too.

Drug users need to support their habits. Forty-four percent of users do so by selling drugs to coworkers, according to a National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Some resort to theft, both against companies and other employees. For example, 18 percent of callers to the National Cocaine Helpline admit they’ve stolen from coworkers.

In addition, absenteeism skyrockets, productivity plummets and team morale suffers when drugs enter the workplace.

It’s been estimated that drug abusers cost employers twice as much in medical and worker’s compensation claims. In my experience, that’s conservative. For example, one food company client implemented a drug screening program in 1998. That year, workers’ comp claims totaled $1.6 million. The following year, claims dropped to $400,000. Today, workers’ comp claims total $2,500.

Implementing a drug prevention program is a shrewd investment. Now’s the time to put one in place-or give your existing plan a tune-up.

Here’s how:

Five Steps to a Drug-Free Work Environment

1. Define Your Drug Prevention Policy
You can’t implement a policy until you define it. To get started, consult The Department of Labor’s program, Working Partners for an Alcohol and Drug-Free Workplace. Or ask a reputable screening firm to help you craft a program.

The threat of a pre-employment drug test will immediately deter abusers from applying. Chances are, morale will rise-because workers don’t want to be around drug users, either.

2. Create Drug Screening Parameters
Some states have laws that regulate drug screening, so make sure you’re plan is in compliance.

There are three testing scenarios to employ:
“Pre-employment Testing - All prospective hires should be subject to drug testing.
“Random Testing - Randomly select a percentage of employees for screening at regular intervals. Make sure selection is truly random; it’s discriminatory to do otherwise.
“ Post-incident Test - Perform a drug test as quickly as possible following a work-related incident.

Don’t underestimate the power of your screening program. When the Navy first implemented one in the 1980s, drug use quickly dropped from 28 percent to under 4 percent.

3. Choose a Testing Method
Currently, there are three methods of testing:
“ Urine Testing -the most commonly utilized test, it is cost-effective and widely accepted. But there are disadvantages. For one thing, employees must be sent to an offsite lab for testing. For another, hundreds of websites advise abstaining from drugs for three days before giving a sample-a fact drug users know and use to beat the test.

“ Oral Fluid Testing - this form of testing is increasingly popular, because the oral swab can be given on site at the workplace and sent out for analysis. It costs about the same as urine testing (about $35-$40 per test), and is limited to the same 72-hour detection window.

“ Hair Testing - the most effective method available, hair testing identifies drugs taken within a 90-day period. Few drug users can outsmart this one. At $65-$85 per test, it is admittedly more expensive. But what value-while the other tests end up costing about $10 per testing day, hair testing amortizes to less than a dollar per covered day.

Whatever method you choose, use a government certified lab or agency to conduct the tests.

4. Provide Drug Use Recognition Training
Train your managers and supervisors to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug use. It’s not as obvious as you might think-did you know that crumpled soda cans are often castoff cocaine pipes?

A number of corporate security companies offer strong training programs. In my experience, managers greatly appreciate this formal training. Most admit having had concerns about an employee’s behavior, but weren’t sure how to proceed. Training builds confidence and, backed by a written drug policy, allows management to act.

5. Raise Awareness Among Employees
Take it a step further-teach your employees the signs and dangers of drug abuse, too. Encourage them to report potential problems, and give them procedures for doing so. Post signs declaring your company’s anti-drug policy.

Chances are, the only employees who object to drug screening are those with a reason. According to a recent Gallup poll, 96 percent of employees favor drug screening in at least some circumstances.

Regardless of your company’s size, industry, and location, you’re not immune from the problems of drug abuse. Implement a drug screening program now-a year from now, you’ll be glad you did.

Wayne Hovland is Vice President of Drug Screening at Aurico, Inc., a national background and drug screening firm based in Arlington Heights, IL. A Chicago police officer for 30 years, he developed his department’s drug screening program. With 20 years experience in drug prevention and training, Mr. Hovland consults with employers, public agencies, and law enforcement groups nationwide. He may be reached at 847-255-1852,