Drug use in America is on the rise. According to research by the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), around 32 million Americans, or just over 11% of the population, use illegal drugs like cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine or abuse prescription medications like oxycodone and benzodiazepines.
The same report shows that drug abuse costs US businesses over $740 billion yearly in lost productivity and drug-related crimes. Watch some videos on YouTube of xylazine addicts stumbling around the streets of Kensington, PA, and you might think the problem only affects the poor and homeless. That’s not the case.
Research shows that people from all age groups and all societal demographics are using drugs – and the problem is growing exponentially. The reality is people like doing drugs. Breaking down the usage by drug, we see the following consumption statistics, rated by popularity.
- Marijuana: 2.9 million
- Prescription stimulants: 2.9 million
- Methamphetamines: 2.2 million
- Prescription painkillers: 1.9 million
- Heroin: 957,000
- Cocaine: 638,000
- Prescription sedatives: 319,000
These figures don’t even include fentanyl, the dangerous drug that’s 50X more potent than heroin. It’s unclear how many people are using the substance because it’s now commonly “cut” into many other drugs like cocaine and heroin to increase the potency of these compounds.
What we do know is that fentanyl use is exploding. In 2022, there were just over 56,500 fentanyl overdoses. In 2021 that number surged to more than 80,800. It’s clear the problem is getting out of hand. In fact, Fentanyl overdoses are now the leading cause of death in Americans aged 18 to 49.
Fentanyl aside, we can see drug use is on the rise across all drugs and all age groups in the United States. More people are experimenting with marijuana and pain medication than ever before. So, what does this mean for your business?
The chances are someone on your team is using drugs. Whether that’s recreational or if they have a severe addiction, it’s a problem for your business. In 2022, over 10,000 commercial truck drivers tested positive for marijuana. The number was 7,750 violations a year earlier, showing an exponential increase in drug use in this industry.
The Issue with Drug Abuse in the Workplace
Drug use in the workplace is a problem. Despite costing businesses hundreds of billions of dollars annually, it also presents a health and safety risk. Would you want to drive next to a truck driver stoned out of his mind after smoking a joint at the truck stop?
That’s a commercial vehicle weighing tens of thousands of pounds. There’s considerable evidence showing marijuana use slows your nervous system’s response to stimuli, meaning these drivers can’t react to dangerous situations as fast as they could if they were sober, which could cost people their lives.
A Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) study shows that 68.9% of all drug users are employed actively in the workplace. According to the TN Department of Labor & Workforce Development, over a third of all employees are aware of sales of illegal drugs in the workplace.
That means not only are some of your employees using drugs at work, but they might also be selling them to other employees to make some cash. The statistics are nothing short of shocking. Business owners and corporate leaders need to take action to devise a plan to counteract the influence drugs have in the workplace.
This post looks at how implementing polygraphs can assist with uncovering drug abuse in the workplace and what you can do to take action against it happening in your company.
How Does Drug Abuse in the Workplace affect Employers and Employees?
In reality, you’re never going to stop your employees from using drugs. Many of them probably use drugs recreationally on the weekends when they go out to parties, or they might even have a marijuana habit where they smoke it at night when they get home to unwind after a long day.
Since more states are making recreational marijuana legal, you don’t even have a say in if this conduct is acceptable. Worse than that, with the current hiring crisis, thanks to the Federal Reserves’ tsunami of liquidity printed in the wake of the coronavirus, fewer people are looking for work.
Many companies are dropping testing policies because they can’t find candidates that aren’t on some type of drug. For instance, the trucking industry had to stop testing for marijuana in 2022 because there was a shortage of drivers and a supply chain glut causing massive problems in the industry.
So, no matter how hard you try, you’ll never stamp out employee drug use. Having an employee that smokes marijuana in the evening isn’t a real problem. It’s when they bring it to work and smoke on the job that it becomes a problem.
You don’t have to worry about recreational drug users. They aren’t the problem. The issue is with the hardened addict. An addict is a person that can’t go sober. They need the drug to function and can’t imagine life without being high 24/7. These people are the real problem for your business.
Using drugs at work presents a health and safety problem for the rest of the team and slows your business’s productivity. An addict could make a mistake that costs you money or your brand reputation in the market.
Using drugs at work is downright dangerous. A study by OSHA shows 10-20% of US employees that die at work have drugs in their system. It also indicates jobs in construction and mining have the highest rates of employee drug abuse. Employees using drugs at work may exhibit the following behaviors that make them a liability to your company.
- They have poor employee performance and productivity levels at work.
- They frequently arrive late or call out of work.
- They change jobs more often than sober individuals.
- They battle with efficiency and productivity in their work.
- They file for workers’ compensation benefits.
Business owners must implement drug policies at their companies to prevent addicts from ruining their company and workforce. Implementing drug policies in the workplace and employee contractual agreements is a start to solving the problem.
Research from the Society of Human Resource Management shows around 57% of employers conduct drug testing on new hires. By inducting this procedure into your business, you have a good chance of weeding out the addicts.
Furthermore, your workplace drug policy can also include polygraph testing for employees suspected of using drugs or selling them in the workplace. With these practices in place, you get a better quality employee and a lower potential of inviting addicts into your organization.
What Does Drug Abuse in the Workplace Cost Businesses?
We’ve already discussed how drug use in the workplace costs American companies over $740 billion in lost revenue annually. While mental illness is a big problem in the workplace and much the subject of discussion for thought leaders in the space, many aren’t paying enough attention to the problems workplace drug abuse can cost their company.
An online tool from the National Safety Council lets companies estimate how much drug addiction in their company may be affecting their bottom line. This tool encourages employers to find ways to identify drug addiction in employees and assist them with finding the help they need to beat the problem.
From lost revenue to stolen goods, workplace accidents, and more, drug addiction in the workplace is a serious problem costing businesses huge amounts of money every year.
Workplace Drug Testing and Substance Abuse Programs
Many large companies already have drug testing policies in place. However, many smaller firms don’t have the budget available to implement these policies. If drug users hear an employer will test them for drugs, they will likely not return after their pre-employment interview, even if they land the job.
This strategy makes pre-employment drug testing an effective screening tool to weed out addicts before they have a chance to enter the business. It’s much more challenging for business owners to fire an employee for drug use after onboarding them to the team.
Employee rights show that employees can refuse drug tests and polygraphs as per the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988. So, when you have an addict in your organization, it might be challenging to remove them without creating a massive liability suit for your company.
Those companies implementing drug testing programs for their employees receive the following benefits for their company and team.
- Improved morale.
- A reduction in workplace accidents.
- Lower levels of employee theft.
- An increase in productivity.
- Lower employee turnover.
- Fewer workers’ compensation claims.
So, the reality is companies can’t afford to not implement a drug testing program. The research shows the benefits lead to cost savings that far exceed the costs of running the tests. Testing provides a safer workplace experience for employees, boosting revenues for the business due to an improved workplace experience. Effective workplace drug testing programs include testing and prevention strategies for employees.
How Do You Know If an Employee is Abusing Drugs?
Different drugs have different effects. Some might be blatantly obvious, while others might be more subtle and harder for employers or co-workers to spot. Some drug users are also better at covering their tracks than others.
For example, if John goes out to his car on lunch break and comes back smelling like marijuana, with bloodshot eyes, chances are he smoked a joint on his break. However, Susan might do the same, but she puts eyedrops in her eyes after smoking and wears perfume to mask the smell of the smoke.
This example changes if we look at harder drugs like cocaine. An employee might go to the bathroom, sniff a line, and return to his desk, sniffling and acting erratically. On inspecting the bathroom, you find traces of cocaine on the toilet roll holder where he did his line. Conversely, another employee might do the same but wipe down the area and not do enough to make them sniffle or act erratically.
Uncovering drug use in the workplace is challenging, and in many cases, it’s not the management but other employees that notice the addictive behavior in their colleagues. However, they might feel it’s not their place to “snitch” on the co-worker, and they could keep it under wraps. In other cases, the employee might walk straight into the manager’s office, accusing their colleague of using drugs and demanding the company take action.
Business owners and managers need to have a policy in place to deal with the discovery of drug addiction or accusations of drug addiction in the workplace.
What Can Employers Do If They Suspect Employee Drug Abuse in the Workplace?
Employers must create an open-door policy for their team, inviting them to report drug abuse in the workplace. They must ensure that all reporting of offenders is strictly confidential. The employee reporting the problem should have a clear path to management to register the issue, with the opportunity to report it at work or outside business hours in private.
The employee reporting the problem must understand they are not putting the other employee’s job at risk. They should realize companies have policies to help the workers heal from their drug problems. The employee should understand that failing to lodge the report puts other co-workers and their livelihoods at risk.
Is It Legal to Use a Polygraph to Uncover Substance Abuse in the Workplace?
According to the Federal Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988, employers may not force or bully employees into taking a drug test or a polygraph exam to uncover their drug use. However, there are exceptions to the rule.
Most public entities, such as the FBI, NSA, and CIA, require pre-employment polygraph screening of candidates. However, this practice is strictly controlled and mostly outlawed in the private sector. Unless the company is involved in the pharmaceutical industry or in high-value asset protection or guarding, they can’t use pre-employment polygraph testing on candidates.
Under the Federal Employee Polygraph Protection Act, private companies are prohibited from implementing the following.
- Require, suggest, or request any employee or candidate to submit to a polygraph.
- Refer to, accept, use, or inquire about polygraph exam results conducted on employees or job candidates.
- Discipline, discriminate, or dismiss employees or candidates who refuse a lie detector test.
The Act also prevents employers from firing or discriminating against employees who claim protection under the Act. While government employees don’t have these same protections, civil service rules may provide them with some protection in this regard.
However, employers can still implement a policy of polygraph exams and drug testing at their companies. It means that the employer must be more careful about how they implement it into their approach and how they execute it.
Hiring a competent attorney is the best way to build a policy of effective drug testing and polygraphing while remaining compliant with the Federal Employee Polygraph Protection Act.
There are several restrictions regarding drug testing and polygraph exams in the workplace regarding suspected drug abuse. The employee must read and sign a statement before undergoing a lie detector test. This statement includes the following.
- A list of topics that cannot be discussed in the exam. Examples are religious beliefs, racial matters, sexual preference, political affiliations, and lawful activities in labor unions and associations.
- Information concerning the employee’s right to refuse the polygraph test.
- Candidates do not have to take the test as a condition of employment.
- An explanation of the use of test results.
- An explanation of the employee’s or candidate’s legal rights if the test doesn’t comply with the
The employee or candidate has the right to request the following when undergoing the polygraph test.
- They may ask the examiner to stop at any time.
- They may ask the examiner to phrase the questions in a way that’s not intrusive or degrading.
After completing the test, the employer may not share the test results with anyone. Results can be disclosed only to the employer and employee, a government agency or court, and a mediator or arbitrator in a court-related matter. The law prohibits prospective employers from accessing prior polygraph exam results.
In Closing – Can I Implement Drug Tests and Polygraphs for My Employees?
Handling addiction in the workplace is challenging for American businesses. The Employee Protection Act makes it hard for employers to weed out addicts, providing them protection against employers taking advantage of them. While this Act was meant to protect employees, it’s prone to abuse, much like drugs.
Some employees who are substance abusers might try to leverage the Act against you to seek a settlement in court. Understanding your rights as an employer is critical to you remaining on the right side of the law. Seeking advice from a talented and competent attorney is the best way to set up the right drug policy for your company.
The attorney will advise you on how to design and implement the policy and how to handle situations where you suspect employee drug abuse in the workplace.