Drug-Free Workplace Programs:
Successes and Future Challenges
A 1999 study of workplace substance abuse revealed that the percentage of workers who said they had been provided information, who were aware of written policies regarding drug and alcohol use, or whose workplace provided access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) increased with establishment size. Only 27% of workers in small businesses reported having access to an EAP, compared to 61% of workers in mid-size and 75% of workers in large establishments reported that their workplace had EAP programs. Larger workforces were far more likely to have incorporated a comprehensive drug-free workplace program (including a formal policy, employee education, access to an EAP and drug testing) which has resulted in approximately 50% lower positive drug test rates, and 75% fewer self-reports of current drug use among workers compared to smaller worksites (124 employees). Workers in small establishments reporting current illicit drug use were less likely to be employed in workplaces with a written policy.1
A 4-year study conducted at the Xerox Corporation in Rochester, NY found workers participating in a wellness program to get fit, trim and healthy, who did not use illicit drugs or tobacco and limited alcohol consumption had fewer serious workplace injuries. On average, wellness programs comprise 12% of a company's health care expenses. During the study, Xerox reduced its costs for health care and health insurance, achieving a 5 to 1 return on investment on their worksite wellness efforts.2
A December 1995 study reinforced the belief by many employers that drug testing reduces injuries and workers' compensation claims in the workplace. The study found that companies engaged in random drug testing in combination with pre-employment testing reduced their mean workers' compensation claims per 100 employees per year by 63.7% over a 4-year period while the "control group" of employers (employers not conducting drug testing), experienced a 19% increase during that same time period. The study also found that well over half of the responding employers believed that the benefits of drug testing outweighed the cost and just under half felt that the benefits of an EAP outweighed the cost. When asked to select one strategy over the other, 40.6% of the respondents stated that it was more important to conduct drug testing than have an EAP, while only 7.8% thought it was more important to have an EAP than to test. However, 51.6% thought drug testing and EAPs were of equal importance.3
Since 1986, the Federal government has mandated a comprehensive drug-free workplace program for all Federal Executive Branch workers. Executive Order 12564 (Drug-Free Federal Workplace, 1986) established a condition of employment for all Federal employees to refrain from using illegal drugs on or off-duty. This comprehensive approach includes the following five components: 1) development of an agency policy; 2) employee education; 3) supervisory training; 4) access to agency-sponsored Employee Assistance Programs; and 5) urine drug testing for illegal drugs of job applicants and Federal employees in designated testing positions according to the scientific and technical procedures outlined in Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs (PDF).
Since January, 2001, the Federal Employees Health Plan, the nation's largest employer-paid employee health insurance plan, provides full coverage for substance abuse treatment, equal to that of any other medical condition.4
1 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Worker Drug Use and Workplace Policies and Programs: Results from the 1994 and 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, September 1999.
2 The George Washington University Medical Center, Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems Issue Brief 2 (PDF), January 2003.
3 Houston's Drug-Free Business Initiative and the University of Houston, A Report on Employer Attitudes and the Impact of Drug Control Strategies on Workplace Productivity, December 1995.
4 Office of Personnel Management, Federal Employees Health Benefits Program Web site.
Last Updated: March 22, 2004