Impact of COVID-19 on Workplace Drug Use

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Impact of COVID-19 on Workplace Drug Use

With more than 21 million people struggling with substance abuse in the US, it’s no surprise that workplace drug use is on the rise.  More than three-quarters of those individuals have jobs.  Therefore, absenteeism by these workers is a major concern for employers as workers with SUDs may miss 50% more workdays than other employees.  Those lost hours cause decreased productivity and financial losses for the company.

In 2019, positive workplace drug tests rose by more than 4%.  While the majority of these tests focused primarily on marijuana, positive results for cocaine and methamphetamine use among workers increased as well.  Employees testing positive for marijuana rose by 11% in 2019.  These numbers were reported before COVID-19 and studies show that since the pandemic began, substance abuse has spiked significantly.

Why is Workplace Drug Use on the Rise Today?

In a statement from the NSC, employers are warned to prepare for an increase in substance misuse:

The threat of a post-COVID rise in mental health and substance abuse problems is definitely something that has to be monitored as people return to work,” said Moe Gelbart, director of practice development for California-based Community Psychiatry, an outpatient mental health organization. “It’s important to have clear boundaries and expectations, primarily related to work performance. And it’s essential for managers to follow through on behaviors [that] cross the line, with a zero-tolerance policy on abuse related to the workplace.
The NSC also reports that 86% of employers are concerned about the impact of employee opioid abuse and 74% are concerned about fentanyl and heroin abuse having a negative impact in the workplace.

How Does the Pandemic Impact Workplace Drug Use?

The impact of COVID-19 on mental health contributes to an increase in drug use.  Fears about the virus, social isolation, and depression are some of the things that cause people to turn to drugs or alcohol.  As these individuals return to work, they may not discontinue their drug use beforehand.

According to the NSC:

This could be a serious threat to worker safety and cost tens of thousands in productivity losses, absenteeism and presenteeism, and workers’ compensation claims if employers do not plan ahead.
Employee substance abuse has cost some employers over $200,000 in medical expenses per claimant, which is higher than many other health conditions.

What Can Employers Do to Minimize Risks?

Workplace drug use is difficult to handle for many reasons.  Employers must ensure that company policies are followed and obligations are met.  They must also address problematic behavior and try to maintain a certain level of compassion for the individual in question.

Here are some steps employers can take to make the process less stressful for everyone:

  • Discuss performance concerns with the employee and give them the opportunity to bring up personal issues they feel comfortable revealing.
  • Provide information about leaves of absence or Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that are available.
  • If signs of substance abuse are obvious, report it to HR right away.
  • Never directly accuse an employee of substance use on the job.  It’s possible they could be on medication that is causing their symptoms.
  • Foster an open environment where employees feel comfortable to talk about substance use.  For instance, some employees may be dealing with COVID-19 related emotional issues that lead them to use drugs or alcohol.
  • Stay-at-home workers during COVID-19 should adhere to standard workday hours, deadlines, etc.  Managers must pay attention to problematic behavior such as missed deadlines or a decline in the quality of work.  These things could indicate that substance use is affecting the worker’s performance.

Consistent and clear workplace policies and programs will help deal with employees who have substance abuse issues.

Getting Help for Substance Abuse

Workplace drug use can be dangerous for the individual and those who work in the same area.  Life-threatening accidents have happened to innocent fellow workers as a result of someone being under the influence of drugs or alcohol on the job.  Professional addiction treatment is the best option for helping these individuals.

If you are struggling with substance abuse, contact us at A Forever Recovery today.  Our treatment program can help you overcome addiction and return to being a productive, contributing member of your workplace, your family, and the community.


  • nsc.orgDrugs at Work: What Employers Need to Know

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