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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Drug Abuse Prevention -- "Pay Me Now Or Pay Me Later"

People in Scioto County loudly voiced their concern for the working class and good-paying union jobs as they voted down Issue 2 by a margin of 16,142 to 5,068 -- a more than 3 to 1 show of support. On the same ballot, Scioto voters rejected a 1-mil levy that would have provided measures to educate school-age youth about drug abuse prevention. I think rejecting the prevention levy will prove costly to Scioto workers and employers.

Scioto County is the epicenter of a prescription drug health epidemic that claims large numbers of lives and reeks untold misery through severe addiction. The rx drug problem is relatively new, so, unfortunately, good statistics on the economic impact of workplace prescription drug abuse are not readily available. Still, experts understand that consequences may be similar to those of illicit drug abuse.

Perhaps the public needs a better awareness of drug abuse in the workplace. After all, the election results do show most citizens are extremely concerned about jobs and the economy. Maybe the same voters should review the prevalence, the impact and the cost of drugs at work.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor...

The Prevalence 

How does substance abuse affect the workplace? Take a look. (US Department of Labor. eLaws: drug-free workplace advisor. Available at:
Accessed August 19, 2009).

* More than six percent of the population over 12 years of age (13.9 million people) has used drugs within the past thirty days. Rates of use remain highest among persons aged 16 to 25–the age group entering the work force most rapidly.

* Seventy-three percent of all current drug users aged 18 and older (8.3 million adults) were employed in 1997. This includes 6.7 million full-time workers and 1.6 million part-time workers.

* Construction workers (15.6%), sales personnel (11.4%), food preparation, wait staff, and bartenders (11.2%), handlers, helpers, and laborers (10.6%,) and machine operators and inspectors (10.5%) reported the highest rates of current illicit drug use. Protective service workers reported the lowest rate of current drug use (3.2%).

* According to a national survey conducted by the Hazelden Foundation, more than sixty percent of adults know people who have gone to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol.   

The Impact 

Numerous studies, reports and surveys suggest that substance abuse is having a profoundly negative affect on the workplace in terms of decreased productivity and increased accidents, absenteeism, turnover, and medical costs. 

Full-time workers aged 18-49 who reported any current illicit drug use were more likely than those reporting no current illicit drug use to state that they had:

* Worked for three or more employers in the past year (32.1% versus 17.9%),

* Taken an unexcused absence from work in the past month (12.1% versus 6.1%),

* Voluntarily left an employer in the past year (25.8 % versus 13.6%) and

* Been fired by an employer in the past year (4.6% versus 1.4%).

According to results of a NIDA-sponsored survey, illicit drug-using employees are:  

* 2.2 times more likely to request early dismissal or time off,

* 2.5 times more likely to have absences of eight days or more,

* 3 times more likely to be late for work,

* 3.6 times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident and

* 5 times more likely to file a workers' compensation claim. 

A survey of callers to the national cocaine helpline revealed that 75 percent reported using drugs on the job, 64 percent admitted that drugs adversely affected their job performance, 44 percent sold drugs to other employees, and 18 percent had stolen from co-workers to support their drug habit.

The Cost

The economic and human costs of drug and alcohol use are astounding. In fact, the National Institutes of Health recently reported that alcohol and drug abuse cost the economy $246 billion in 1992, the most recent year for which economic data are available.  

("The Economic Costs of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in the United States." 1992. National Institute on Drug Abuse. National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. Rockville, MD.)


I believe it is evident that the levy dollar cost of establishing a first-rate, up-to-date drug abuse prevention program in Scioto County schools would have been money well spent. To a public so concerned with skilled local labor, such an opportunity to educate present and future workers about the prevalence, the impact, and the costs of drug abuse should not have taken lightly.  

Remember the famous Fram Oil Filter marketing slogan, "You can pay me now, or pay me later"?
The auto mechanic in the commercial explained to us (the customers) that we could either pay a small sum now for the replacement of oil and filter (as a preventative measure) or pay a far larger sum later for the replacement of the vehicle's expensive engine (due to continued neglect). Consider this analogy as it applies to educating youth and their need for drug abuse prevention.

I, for one, do not want to pay the price of neglecting drug abuse education. I fear we are, indeed, going to suffer the tremendous cost of avoiding preventative maintenance. I am extremely confident a nominal investment in our youth will pay great dividends. Scioto missed a timely opportunity. I hope the voters realize this and correct the situation at once.
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