3 steps for building an effective drug detection & rehabilitation program
by Kevin Hildebrandt
October 5, 2018

In 2017, the United States Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, and the construction industry certainly isn’t immune. According to a recent national study, an estimated 15 percent of construction workers have a substance abuse disorder—nearly double the national average of 8.6 percent.

As such, the industry has been hit hard by the opioid crisis. Construction is one of the most demanding and dangerous occupations in the U.S., requiring workers to pull, lift and move debris and building materials, as well as operate heavy machinery daily, resulting in physical wear and tear on the body. Historically, physicians have been quick to prescribe narcotics for pain, which carry addictive qualities and repercussions for dependence. Consequently, users continue to require larger doses for pain relief, which may lead to illegal drug use if individuals are no longer able to access prescription drugs—a common occurrence since doctors are now closely monitored and urged not to write prescriptions for controlled substances as often.

It’s difficult for employers to know if their workers are using prescribed opioids, unless the employee was injured in a work-related incident. Following are three steps for creating and implementing a successful substance abuse program in your company.

1. Provide Education

Educate your entire company—from laborers to the executive team. It is critical that everyone understands that the drug problem (whether legal or illegal use) exists and that it’s counterproductive and dangerous for all involved to turn a blind eye. It’s also important for them to fully understand the corporate substance-abuse policy and how every employee is required to comply.

Most policies state that legally prescribed drugs are permitted on company premises or jobsites, provided the drugs are contained in the original prescription container and are prescribed by an accredited medical practitioner. However, an employee undergoing medical treatment with a drug or controlled substance that may alter his or her physical or mental ability to perform his or her job assignments must immediately notify his or her supervisor, as it may be necessary to change or monitor the employee’s job assignments while undergoing treatment.

2. Identify Drug Use

Along with education, a drug-testing program should be viewed as the first step in the fight against opioids. Your office drug-testing program should mirror your field program. It’s important to keep procedures the same across the board. If consistency is lacking, there is the chance of undermining the program, as well as incurring legal implications. Reasonable-suspicion training, which helps supervisors detect signs and symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse, can have a significant impact on detection.

It’s imperative to remember that you are dealing with real people and their livelihoods. If someone is suspected of abusing drugs, have a manager professionally address that individual, remove them from the work area, and send them in for a reasonable-suspicion drug test.

3. Address Detection

If the results of an employee’s screening are positive, assist that person by connecting him or her with your organization’s employee assistance program (EAP). All tests obtained or received by the employer should remain confidential; only personnel with a direct need to know should be informed of results.

Some organizations’ policies state that the employee can return to work after 30 days of progress and a negative follow-up drug test. However, your EAP counselor is best able to make an assessment. After that, the employee must agree to at-will drug testing, meaning the employer can request a test at any time and frequency, without reasonable cause.

Some construction companies deal with drug abuse by terminating the employee outright, but it’s vital to understand that everyone has shortcomings, and when given a second chance, many employees will prioritize family and jobs and accept the help that is offered. If the person is caught with illegal or unauthorized drugs in their system a second time, termination is then necessary. This second-chance method has proven effective because it shows compassion for employees and offers them the opportunity to rectify the situation and personally succeed. Still, while empathy is important when dealing with drug abuse, never sacrifice the safety of your employees, which should always remain your top priority.

A great deal of construction companies are built on family values and a desire to see employees succeed, realizing that it’s beneficial for all to get someone struggling with substance abuse the help they need so that they can continue to work and support their family. Once these employees complete their rehabilitation program and return to work, they tend to have a renewed appreciation for the company and its leaders. Many companies have found that some of their best employees, who have experienced substance-abuse issues and recovered, go on to become some of the best supervisors due to the fostering of mutual respect and a willingness to invest in them.

While battling addiction is no easy task, this three-step approach is not difficult for construction companies to replicate and implement. If your company does not have a set plan for preventing and addressing substance use or is looking to revise the current plan, a beneficial place to start is by speaking with a representative of your EAP, a drug and alcohol prevention center, your insurance provider, and/or your local unions (when applicable) to find out more about programs they have in place.