Food Service, Construction Highest for Drug, Alcohol Users: SAMHSA

Many safety and HR professionals will be surprised by the size of the problem reported July 16 in a new Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) report, which estimates there are 16.4 million current users of illegal drugs nationwide and 15 million heavy alcohol users, and that most of both groups hold full-time jobs. This finding is less surprising: These people miss more work time than non-users, and those using drugs tend to work for employers that do not test their workers for illegal drug use.

The highest rates of current illegal drug use are among food service workers (17.4 percent) and construction workers (15.1 percent). Highest rates of current heavy alcohol use are among construction, mining, excavation, and drilling workers (17.8 percent) and installation, maintenance, and repair workers (14.7 percent), SAMHSA said. "The high rates of drug and alcohol use in hazardous industries is cause for concern," said Elena Carr, drug policy coordinator at the U.S. Department of Labor. "Clearly, businesses can ill afford the risk of having workers operating meat slicers, backhoes, or other dangerous equipment while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which is one reason why DOL helps employers and employees work together to proactively prevent such safety hazards."

Among full-time workers who reported they currently use illegal drugs, 12.3 percent said they had worked for three or more employers in the past year (compared with 5.1 percent of non-using workers. The study, "Worker Substance Use and Workplace Policies and Programs," was based on data collected during 2002, 2003, and 2004 from a nationally representative sample of 128,000 people, ages 18 to 64, who participated in SAMHSA's National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Nearly a third of the current users of illegal drugs answering the survey said they would be less likely to work for employers who conducted random drug testing. Overall, about 30 percent of the full-time workforce reported that random drug testing took place in their current workplace. Workers in transportation and material-moving (62.9 percent) and protective services (61.8 percent) were the most likely to report their employers conduct random testing. The report is available at http://oas.samhsa.gov/work2k7/toc.cfm.

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