Employers can help fight drug problem
In a recent editorial, The Dispatch rightly called attention to the escalating problem the opioid epidemic is causing for Ohio employers.
In fact, according to Ohio Department of Health, 3,000 Ohioans of employment age were lost in 2017 alone due to opioid-related fatalities. Even prior to the epidemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conservatively note that for every one death, 10 people are admitted for treatment, 32 visited the emergency room, 130 are drug-dependent and 825 are nonmedical users of prescription drugs.
But the jeopardy to our workforce is not just dependence on opioids (which include prescription drugs, heroin and fentanyl), according to Quest Diagnostics, the largest workplace-testing organization. The rates of positive tests for cocaine and amphetamines are escalating too and, as the Dispatch points out, we’re just now readying access to legalized medical marijuana in Ohio.
Each of the employed individuals that are misusing prescription and other drugs is costing an Ohio employer between $7,000 and $25,000. That figure is staggering.
Ohio employers must stop burying their heads in the sand. Employers must expand efforts to protect themselves, and the single antidote for harmful use of substances affecting workplaces is a comprehensive drug-free-workplace program. To be comprehensive, the program must focus on preventing the harmful use in the first place and protecting the workplace with legally sound intervention measures, including a second-chance policy for the first time an employee tests positive for substance use.
When you consider that four out of five new heroin users started by misusing prescription painkillers and that children of parents who talk to them about drugs are up to 50 percent less likely to use, there’s no doubt that the workplace is ripe for education and prevention efforts. These should include providing the information and tools employees need to be aware and to act on these statistics.
A recent survey of more than 3,200 Ohio employers made clear that employers can do more. We found that 1 in 3 employers polled had none of the elements of a comprehensive program in place to protect their businesses. These elements include: a written policy with the company’s requirements for clear-minded employee performance and naming where to turn for assistance; educating employees about the drugs, rules and the proper use and disposal of such substances; training supervisors with the tools to intervene before the harmful use by an employee costs lives and dollars; testing to know what is actually being misused, and having a plan for assisting employees that includes a second chance.
In my role, I have been asked time and again, “Does giving an employee a second chance really work for the employer?” And my answer to that question is always yes. A second-chance policy can be a wise and financially sound business decision. And, beyond being the compassionate thing to do for your employees, it also has a built-in safeguard for the employer. If the employee doesn’t follow through with the assessment and recommendations, they have self-elected to leave the company.
Additionally, it makes good financial sense: The cost of replacing an employee ranges from 25 to 200 percent of the annual salary — and that doesn’t include the losses in company knowledge, continuity and productivity. Finally, a little-known fact about employee absenteeism: An employee in recovery from a substance-use disorder actually misses less work than the general workforce — a cost savings of more than $3,200 per year.
When you couple the liability protections, the financial benefits and the loyalty of an employee who has been supported by the employer to get healthy, the positive impact of having a comprehensive policy that provides second chances for employees is immeasurable. And, in all honesty, with the staggering escalation of drug addiction in our state, it is essential.