“Addressing the Issue of Substance Abuse in the Workplace”
Drug abuse, has become the scourge of the civilized world threatening not only the
health and life of the community, but the very fabric of our society, our family. Drugs
are of concern to all of us. They kill, they maim and they destroy our quality of life.
They undermine economies, tear apart families, promote and sustain criminal
activity. The drug habit recognizes no barriers, color, race, religion, sex, age or social
standing. In fact the habit respects nothing and no one.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction
(EMCDDA), the workplace is a setting, which seems to be “ripe” for the further
development of drug demand reduction activities.
Definitions of Substance Abuse
What does substance abuse mean and what does it include?
The abused substances can include a wide variety of chemical compounds, but let’s
describe how some of these are “abused”.
1. The use of alcohol, definitely classified as a narcotic, in quantities which
negatively affects our ability for working, driving, etc.
2. The use of illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin.
3. The misuse of legal drugs such as prescription drugs and over-the counter
medications. For example, the use of someone else’s prescription drugs, for
other purposes than those intended.
We can further classify abused substances as any chemical compound that can
affect our perceptive system, which when abused can cause the following results:
1. Harm to him/her self;
2. The possibility of potential harm;
3. Actual or potential harm to another person;
4. Harm to the community, to his company, etc.
Basic Drug Classification
The most commonly abused substance by world-wide workforce is…alcohol.
Marijuana is the most frequent used illegal drug.
Depress Nervous Reduce Pain Stimulate Alter Perceptual
System Nervous System Function
Alcohol Opiates Amphetamines LSD
Barbiturates Analgesics Cocaine Cannabis
Alcohol derives its name from the Arabic world ‘Al Kuhal’ but no one knows when and
by whom it was first used. It is believed that it is the oldest and most frequently
abused substance, dating back to 7000 BC.
Les us further classify some of the known abused substances by order of their
increasing affect on our perceptive system.
Increasing Affect - Downwards
Person’s Body Addiction - Craving Withdrawal
Behavior Tolerance Symptoms Symptoms
Nicotine Cannabis Cannabis Cannabis
Cannabis Cocaine Alcohol Cocaine
Cocaine Alcohol Cocaine Nicotine
Heroin Nicotine Heroin Heroin
Alcohol Heroin Nicotine Alcohol
Source: Kazalotti Elizabetta, Book on Drug Use, 1998.
1. Alcohol is first on Behavioral Affect.
2. Again, Alcohol is first on Withdrawal Symptoms.
3. Nicotine is first on Addiction, the innocent cigarette.
The Workplace and testing as a deterrent
Substance abuse brings with it not just the risk of accidents. It causes decreased
productivity, impaired judgment, absenteeism, personal injury and crime to support
the cost of addiction. Drug abuse in the workplace can become a “nightmare” to an
employer. The introduction of a Drug/Alcohol policy and the enforcement and control
by testing is a proven strong deterrent.
It is a statistical fact that it prevents “Drug Abuse”. Testing is the only objective
means of positively identifying drug/alcohol abuse thereby directly protecting
• Persons that may be under medical treatment, by avoiding falsely accusing
them of drug abuse.
• Employers and their investment.
• When drug abusers are exposed, they are forced to seek medical treatment.
Companies’ incentives to test
One of the keys to success in the increasingly globalized competitive business
environment is the realization of the critical role that quality plays. Employers must
therefore strive to protect this quality.
It is the indirect losses that can cause incalculable damage to the company image:
Inferior products or services, employee turnover, diverted supervisory time and low
Companies’ incentives to test include a variety of reasons such as:
Screen job applicants who may misuse drugs or alcohol;
Reduce costs associated with impaired workers who are unable to safely
perform their jobs;
Reduce workers’ compensation costs;
Control health care costs;
Determine on-the-job- use;
Maintain a competitive edge;
Comply with various regulations that require drug testing of certain
Retain quality level.
Body fluids used in testing
Urine, blood, saliva and hair are the four body fluids typically used for testing:
Blood, though highly accurate is the most invasive and usually not used by
employers except in rare situations.
Saliva has a short detection time of less than 24 hours. It is mostly used for
Hair testing can detect drugs up to 90 days after use. Yet, it continues to be
challenged by scientists and researchers. It cannot detect recent drug use
within the past 1-5 days and is relatively expensive.
Urine is the most common testing method. More than 90 percent of drug
testing companies test urine. Urine has the advantage of having been
tested and proven and largely endorsed through courts and
legislatures. It is relatively less expensive, less invasive and easily
The Objectives of Analysis
To insure that a suspected drug is identified properly and conversely, that no one will
be falsely accused of drug use.
There are quite a few methods of screening and confirmation techniques that can be
used. The criteria should be which method provides the most reliable, accurate and
unequivocal results possible. Stated in a different manner, the methods used must be
the least likely to become a topic of debate by expert forensic witnesses at a legal
The Recommended Analytical Approach
The most effective analytical system for the detection of drugs of abuse should
• a sensitive, drug-class selective technique such as EMIT (Enzyme immunoassay,
employed as the initial screening process to identify negative urine samples and to
select presumptive positive specimens.
• a highly specific technique, GC/MS, used for confirmation of the presumptive
The above Analytical Approach, Gas Chromatography / Mass Spectrometry is known
as the “Gold Standard” and is accepted by the Courts, the International Societies and
the Forensic Experts.
Types of testing – When to Test
There are basically six types of testing from which there are many variations. They
Pre-Employment: used for screening job applicants.
Post- Accident: following an accident.
Reasonable Suspicion: based on employer’s reasonable belief requiring
at the same time proper documentation procedures.
Random: highly effective type because it is unpredictable and un-
Return to duty: following substance abuse rehabilitation leave.
Post rehabilitation: taking place for a specified period of time after an
employee returns to duty following rehabilitation.
Over 80% of marine accidents are caused by human error, as per IMO –
International Maritime Organization. Serious disasters at sea have forced a series of
actions to be taken by National and International Organizations and Governments to
reduce the incidence of marine accidents:
US OPA 90 (Oil Pollution Act, sections 4101-4106) requires drug and alcohol
testing and is enforced by the US Coast Guard.
According to the new final rule effective as of 20 June 2006, the U.S.
Coast Guard announced changes to chemical testing requirements
following SMIs (Serious Marine Incidents). Specifically:
1. Alcohol Testing will be required within two hours of a SMI.
2. Collection of specimens for drug testing will be required as soon as
practicable but no later than within 32 hours. A proposed solution is to
equip vessels with Saliva Alcohol Tests and Sampling Kits.
Maritime guidelines (ISM and ISPS Codes).
Charter Party Clauses (e.g. Exxon Mobil) according to which shipping
companies should have random and post accident testing in place.
Shipping Organizations as Intertanco and Bimco are promoting the
implementation of drug policies.
Major oil companies have introduced strict requirements governing their own
employees, refineries, installations and vessels world-wide.
Substance abuse management programs when properly executed will protect the
interests of both employer and employee. They have proven to be a powerful
deterrent to drug use, motivating many drug users to think twice before jeopardizing
their long-term employment opportunities for the short term pleasure they might
perceive from illegal drug use.
* Mr. S. Stamatopoulos is the Administration Manager of ELSSI, a company
established in 1993 offering a Drug & Alcohol Management Program. The ELSSI
Program is offered internationally in 35 countries in 500 sites in all industries:
Shipping, Aviation, Petroleum sector, Mass transportation, Insurance companies and
Factories. For further information please contact:
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