Monday, July 16, 2007

The nation’s work force is coming around to accepting employer drug-testing policies, according to a new Department of Labor report being released today.

“There’s a lot of good news here,” said Bob Stephenson, director of the Division of Workplace Programs in the Labor Department, which sponsored the survey. “Workers, both young and old, have accepted substance abuse as a problem and also accepted the drug-testing polices of employers.”

In the agency’s survey, 52 million employees, or 46 percent, indicated they would be more likely to work for an employer who gives a drug test before hiring. An additional 56 million workers reported that pre-hire testing would not influence their decision to work for an employer.

“That is a big deal,” Mr. Stephenson said. “It shocked me in a positive way that this is now accepted. It wasn’t in the past.”

The report found that 30 percent of the full-time workers surveyed said random drug testing took place in their current job.

Because the agency is using a different methodology for computing the survey results from past years, Labor Department officials said it is not feasible to compare the results of the survey with past results.

According to the results,16.4 million illicit drug users and about 15 million heavy alcohol users hold full-time jobs. Illicit drug use is defined in the survey as use of marijuana, cocaine, heroin or prescription drugs used non-medically. But the survey found that a much lower number, 2.6 million workers, have a drug problem that can affect productivity.

Substance abuse is higher among unemployed people, but because full-time workers make up about two-thirds of the population between 18 and 64 years old, totaling 115 million persons, most drug and alcohol users are employed full time.

The food-service industry had the highest rate of employee drug use at 17.4 percent, and construction workers were second at 15 percent.

“The high rates of drug and alcohol use in hazardous industries is cause for concern,” said Elena Carr, drug-policy coordinator at the 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.”

A troubling finding, according to Mr. Stephenson, is the number of young full-time workers experiencing problems with alcohol and drugs.

Young adult workers, ages 18 to 25 years old, were least likely to report access to educational information about drug and alcohol use in the workplace, a key factor in the higher prevalence for abuse among their age group.

“We are not doing enough to help young workers with drug and alcohol abuse,” Mr. Stephenson said. “While bigger companies offer a lot of educational programs, in the smaller companies too many young workers do not receive the help they need. We, in government, can do better to help them.”

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