Addressing Substance Abuse in the Workplace Before it Becomes a Legal Issue & Doing it for Free!

    By Mischelle Y. Moyer, M.Ed., Curriculum Development Specialist Drug Free Workplace PA

    The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is in the grips of an acute epidemic of drug abuse and drug-related overdoses. It is equally affecting every urban and rural area of our state and shows no signs of waning. In 2016, more than 4,627 Pennsylvanians died as a result of drug abuse, with thousands more affected by addiction either personally, or through family, friends, and loved ones. Sadly, from 2016–2017, Pennsylvania outpaced all other states by a 43.4 percent increase in overdose deaths from the previous year. By no means are businesses immune to this epidemic as 77 percent of our nation’s part- and full-time workforce is actively abusing drugs and alcohol on a regular basis. How are business owners to combat this pervasive reality without becoming a revolving door for employees who regularly misuse substances; then lose or quit their jobs due to frequent call outs, inadequate performance, and personal issues related to drugs and alcohol? The answer lies in education, education, education.

    To ensure your business’ stance on drug use and impairment on the job is current and sufficient, an employer or HR manager need look no further than the employee handbook. Does your facility currently have a drug free policy in place? If so, does it outline steps for reasonable suspicion, drug testing, grounds for termination, or an employee assistance program? If your answer is no to any of these questions, Drug Free Workplace PA (DFWPA) is here to help. We have assisted over 1,000 PA employers develop drug free workplace programs and the best news of all is that our services are free to any organization, business, or facility operating in Pennsylvania. DFWPA also offers organizations a free online policy builder where employers can customize the policy to suit their specific needs. This simple act alone is an invaluable tool for taking the first steps toward a drug free workplace policy.

    DFWPA was launched from the growing crisis of drug abuse across the nation and more specifically across the state. ACCESS Employee Assistance Program recognized an imminent need for employer awareness of substance use disorders (SUD) in the workplace and how it directly correlates to the health and wellness of employees. A solid commitment to a drug free workplace, where employers, supervisors, and employees are cognizant of the expectations of the policy, increases productivity and customer satisfaction directly affecting—you guessed it—the bottom line. DFWPA makes adopting this policy not only simple and free, but we will train your entire staff, which will increase your return on investment by 600 to 1,200 percent.

    DFWPA operates under state grant funding through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. We serve as a beautiful example of your taxpayer dollars at work. There is no cost to the employer for any core trainings we offer in the following areas: Creating a Drug Free Workplace, Supervisor Training, Reasonable Suspicion, Employee Training, Employee Assistance Program Training, PA Department of Transportation mandated training, and Medical Marijuana in the Workplace. DFWPA will travel right to your doorstep at a predetermined date and time that is most convenient to your business’ hours to conduct onsite training, or we offer any of our trainings in an online format as well. Our goal is to leave you with the tools necessary to begin creating your own drug free workplace and feeling confident in doing so.

    Of course when introducing any type of amendment in workplace policy, there can be upheaval and resistance. DFWPA addresses several fundamental areas where employers and supervisors are faced with the most challenges when initiating change, and we offer supervisors a vast number of resources to combat these challenges. Generally, supervisors find implementing reasonable suspicion of drug abuse toward subordinate employees the toughest. Employers continuously ask for training geared toward best practices from the field in recognizing the signs and symptoms of an employee in trouble. We also provide downloadable documents and step-by-step instructions for following the reasonable suspicion process. We have prepared readable scripts and observable behavior checklists for supervisors needing assistance enforcing reasonable suspicion tactics. During our onsite training, we utilize real case scenarios and role playing so that supervisors get comfortable with the process of following these guidelines. Finally, an area we find more common than not, is that of supervisors and fellow employees enabling the person in question, which ultimately leads to a heightened situation that only becomes worse for both the employer and the employee. In our presentations we reiterate the importance of interceding the problem in its earliest stages so as to avoid negative outcomes or employee termination.

    There are two key initiatives DFWPA focuses on when educating employers on how to implement a drug free workplace: 1) Addressing and sending a clear message of what is prohibited in the workplace and 2) Encouraging employees to voluntarily seek confidential help related to a drug or alcohol problem. Simply stating up front that you enforce a drug free workplace policy can deter alcohol or drug misusers from applying for your positions; which in turn, protects the safety of your employees and the interests of your business. It will also direct existing employees toward resources when they are ready to seek help.
    DFWPA offers employers of any sized venue a vast number of trainings to put them in the driver’s seats when an incident does occur—and rest assured it will—involving drugs or alcohol in their place of business. The employer can opt for customized in-house or online training for themselves, their leaders, and their employees. Also keep in mind that 46 percent of the American workforce, while not actively abusing drugs or alcohol, admit to being distracted, less productive, or called away from work due to substance abuse within their families. Because of this stark reality, DFWPA offers extensive family trainings to empower the family members of the afflicted, who most often feel helpless and isolated, with tools for understanding the science of substance use disorder, coping with and recognizing signs and symptoms of SUD, the risky behavior associated with SUD, as well recognizing each members’ role within the family dynamic when dealing with SUD.

    DFWPA takes great pride in our preemptive methods addressing the sensitive nature of drug misuse. We do not approach drug or alcohol use in the workplace, workplace policies, or family roles with all doom and gloom, strict mandates, or scare tactics. We recognize the humanness of your business’ most valuable asset—its workers. When executed properly and professionally, a drug free workplace policy, accompanied by the tailor-made trainings in any of our areas of specialty can only optimize employee productivity and morale as your staff acknowledges your commitment to their overall wellbeing and that of their families. At DFWPA, we know that education is the key to prevention and recovery happens. We have seen it, we have taught it, and we have lived it. With DFWPA you experience a plethora of knowledge from each corner of the substance use disorder spectrum. We do not profess to have all of the answers, but we do have many, and we are more than willing to point you in the right direction of the resources best suited to meet your individualized needs. Please visit our website: or call our office directly (717) 454-3100 to set up an appointment to discuss your establishment’s unique needs. •

    Resources: “Analysis of Overdose Deaths in Pennsylvania, 2016.” The DEA Philadelphia Field Division; University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, Program Evaluation Research Unit (PERU); Technical Assistance Center (TAC). Pew Research Center, U.S. Politics and Policies, October 24, 2017. Working Partners for an Alcohol and Drug-Free Workplace and U.S. Department of Labor.