Last week I had the opportunity to support two different organizations who were trying to deal with the effects of drug use. With the first organization, I was training a group of managers on how to respond when they suspect an employee might be under the influence at work.

Our neighbor, Illinois, recently became the 11th state in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana, so there were several questions about what this means for the workplace. Regardless of the changes to state laws concerning THC and cannabis, marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Because this business is in the transportation sector, they’re subject to federal guidelines on alcohol and drugs. They’re also especially attuned to the potential hazards of workplace drug and alcohol use, and actively work to promote a safe and healthy workplace.

With the second organization, I had been called in for a “critical incident debriefing,” where I provided counseling and support to employees who learned they lost a friend and co-worker to an accidental drug overdose that weekend.

Many were stunned, shocked and deeply saddened by the employee’s death. As they struggled to make sense of this loss, I heard several asking, “What could I have done?”

While there is no easy answer to this question, I reminded several co-workers they had done what they could: They had been supportive friends and co-workers, and some had even provided more direct support and assistance. However, the employee kept the depth of his addiction hidden and, in the end, the co-workers’ support was not enough.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 19.7 million American adults battled a substance use disorder in 2017. Given the continuing opioid epidemic in this country and the increasing trend toward legalization of marijuana, this number seems likely to grow.

Because most people who struggle with substance abuse are also employed, employers are in a good position to help. But what can these organizations do?

  • Provide free, confidential access to resources, such as an employee assistance program (EAP), which can help employees who have concerns with drug or alcohol use, whether it’s their own or someone else’s.
  • If you haven’t updated your drug and alcohol policy in a few years, it might be a good idea to have it reviewed by an attorney who is familiar with the laws pertaining to your type of business.
  • Train your supervisors and managers to recognize the signs and symptoms of suspected drug or alcohol use. This is an easy, low-cost intervention.
  • Train employees at every level of your organization to understand the dangers of working under the influence of alcohol, illicit drugs, and even some over-the-counter prescription medications.

FEI was founded to help organizations support employees in their recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. Today, our comprehensive EAP benefits include 24/7 phone access to live, professional counselors. We also offer a range of other services that enhance employee well-being, including organizational development, workplace violence prevention and crisis management.