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Drug use in the workplace targeted

Jim Phelps is always surprised at employers who tell him they don’t have any drug problems in their business.

“That’s because drugs aren’t a problem until it’s a problem,” said Phelps, of Community Recovery Resources and the Coalition For a Drug-Free Nevada County. Phelps and Barbara Bashall of the Nevada County Contractors Association know that drugs in the workplace is a large problem here, and that’s why they went before the Board of Supervisors recently to discuss it.

The pair also wanted to draw attention to Oct. 16-22, which is the U.S. Department of Labor’s Drug-Free Work Week. All across the country, employers and employees will be asked to implement programs to make their workplaces drug free.



Supervisor Nate Beason had seen such a program work when he served as a captain in the U.S. Navy.

“It was a serious problem, and I saw it go to a manageable situation,” Beason said.




“Most of our businesses have 10 or fewer employees, and they know their people,” Phelps said. But if one of their children is using drugs and they are missing work because of it, the business suffers indirectly.

“We want to let them know where to go for information,” Phelps said. “Right now we have an employer whose employee has a spouse getting out of prison for meth, and they wanted to know what they could do for her.”

The coalition recently did a local drugs-in-the-workplace survey to find out what was going on and what employers need.

“It showed a lot have a written policy but don’t go to the next step, which is training for management and drug testing,” Phelps said.

County employers don’t want or need another marketing campaign about drugs, Phelps said.

“What they need is information to make educated decisions on what to do. We (CORR and the coalition) try to tell them what services are out there for recovery, where do they go to get a drug test or to find counseling.”

Phelps said the No. 1 drawback for employers is their perception that if they start drug testing, they won’t have any employees left.

“Case studies show testing helps, and there is less turnover,” Phelps said.

Initial employee drug tests are the best, Phelps said, because they scare off most drug users who would come into a workplace. National statistics show that almost 72 percent of drug users are employed.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, illicit drug users avoid large companies, with 87 percent of them working for small businesses with 24 employees or less or medium-sized businesses with less than 500 employees.

Drug tests can also come into play when there are accidents or suspicion of use, Phelps said. When an employer suspects an employee is using, “don’t diagnose, document,” particularly if a worker’s quality, performance level or attendance falls off.

“Most employees welcome it,” Phelps said of drug testing. “They’re sick of covering for people” who are using drugs or drinking on the job.

Phelps said random drug testing is not as effective as people might think and can become expensive for employers because of its frequency. However, those who employ drivers would probably find it a good idea.

Drug tests usually deal with illicit drugs like methamphetamine, “but alcohol is still our No. 1 problem,” Phelps said, adding that prescription drug abuse in the workplace is rising.

“People drink because it legal, but that makes it a lot easier to abuse,” Phelps said.

CORR does drug tests for local firms for $35 apiece, compared to $55 to $75 at other places. The test looks for marijuana; opiates, including pain pills like Vicodin; amphetamines and cocaine.

If a person tests positive, CORR often steps in and starts counseling people about usage, Phelps said. CORR uses a credentialed person to run drug tests and must do so in order to keep federal funding.

Bashall said employers not looking for drug abuse are asking for it. She cited the recent example of Susan Wallace suing the employer of Fred Engel, who was found guilty of trying to kill her last May in her Nevada City home after cleaning her carpets just days before.

Wallace’s suit said the carpet cleaning firm Engel worked for did not screen him properly, and it came out in his trial testimony that he was on methamphetamine at the time of the attack. It culminated with him setting Wallace’s house on fire.

“Employers should ask themselves if they want to risk their businesses that way,” Bashall said. “You could be putting your business at risk by hiring someone who commits a crime while working under the influence,” or even off duty.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

How to find help

To find out how to deal with drugs in the workplace, you can call Jim Phelps at Community Recovery Resources at 273-9541, ext. 214. You can also e-mail him at jim@corr.us.


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