Build Education and Raise Awareness

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Introductory Paragraph

Many public establishments, such as schools and places of work, maintain a zero tolerance for substance use. While this high standard ensures safety, it can sometimes leave individuals with nowhere to turn if they find themselves with a substance use problem. In addition to having high standards, school systems and places of employment can assist their stakeholders by motivating them to maintain a drug-free lifestyle through fostering connection to available resources and by building more effective education. This process can begin by raising awareness of the extent of substance use in society and carefully selecting the right tools to inform and assist individuals to maintain a drug-free lifestyle in and outside of work or school. [1]

Key Information

Drug education programs in public schools have changed over the years, from prioritizing an abstinence-only approach to incorporating mental health, social skills, family bonding, and behavior management. The National Institute on Drug Abuse website has a comprehensive list of drug education programs reflective of this progress. [2] See the SAFE wiki, "Prevent First Time Use Through Education" for more information. [3] This prevention work for children and adolescents has crafted a good foundation for extending the same type of advances in workplace education.

Drugs in the workplace have detrimental effects on all individuals due to impaired decision making. There is an increased risk of damage to property and increased chance of physical harm due to accidents. Drug use also costs employers money because of increased turnover and increased time off. By implementing support for individuals with SUD and integrating effective education, employers may save thousands of dollars. Many businesses have realized the importance of drug education and prevention in the workplace. More businesses, especially smaller businesses, could benefit from implementing drug education. This type of education can be costly, and many times businesses feel they can not afford to add it to the budget. However, research shows that by implementing a drug education and drug testing program, employers and employees both experience positive outcomes. In order to incentivize corporate investment in people, some proven benefits of drug education programs in the workplace are listed below: [4]

  • Increased morale
  • Decreased workplace accidents
  • Reduced employee theft
  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced employee turnover
  • Decreased cost of insurance, such as workers’ compensation

The American Addiction Center recommends that drug education programs include the following: [5]

  • Rules and expectations with terms clearly defined
  • Prevention methods and education
  • Testing
  • Quality employee assistance programs

One possible way to raise awareness in the workplace is to distribute materials, in writing and through visual presentations, that pertain to drug use and its impacts on the work environment and employees. Adding in a Drug Awareness day and presenting information and resources that are available to employees can increase understanding of best actions to take when an individual is struggling with substance use.

Common Signs of Substance Use

By providing education to employees about common signs that indicate someone is struggling with addiction, a workplace may be able to intervene and provide assistance before the problem escalates. Some signs of substance use may be overlooked as common ailments and other signs are more noticeable. Below are some examples [6].

  • Frequent Accidents
  • Erratic Behavior
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Slurred Speech
  • Extreme Mood Swings
  • Paranoia
  • Glassy Eyes
  • Noticeable Exhaustion
  • Frequent Absenteeism

Relevant Research

Rates of Drug Use in the Workforce

According to SAMHSA, almost 70% of drug users are actively employed in the workplace. [7] The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported that one third of employees are aware of the presence and the illegal sales of drugs at their place of employment. [8]

Adults Survey on Drug Education

A study conducted by the American Addiction Centers surveyed 500 men and women. Thirty-seven percent of the participants reported that the most effective way they learned about drug education was by learning about the possible dangers of substance use. In the next highest category, at 20%, participants reported that the most effective drug prevention education approach was listening to the powerful testimonials of recovered adults. This information could be helpful in building an effective drug education program. Surprisingly, 41.2% of respondents reported that they did not receive any education about the science of addiction. Many of the respondents reported that they were not educated on some of the most commonly abused drugs. About half of the 500 adults surveyed had not received formal education about meth, ecstasy, heroin, or other opioids. These statistics support the need for building more educational resources and programs to address all of these gaps. [9].

Impactful Federal, State, and Local Policies

SAMHSA’s Division of Workplace Programs (DWP) performs regulatory, knowledge development, and technical assistance for federally regulated workplace programs in efforts to eliminate illicit drug use in the workplace. The DWP is also responsible for evaluating evidenced-based drug-free programs in non-federal workplaces [10].

Available Tools and Resources

International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) Confronting the drug war: Roundtable series. [11]

Opioid Response Network (ORN) provides free training and education that is evidence-based and designed to meet the needs of a community or organization. [12]

SAMHSA The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA), Office of Behavioral Health Equity held the Behavioral Health Equity Best Practices for African Americans event on Monday, February 5 at 1:30-3:00 pm EST. This dynamic webinar was a collaboration with SAMHSA’s Division of Children and School Mental, Mental Health Promotion Branch, Suicide Prevention Branch, and the 988 & Behavioral Health Crisis Coordinating Office. [13]

Substance Use Employer Cost Calculator This resource provides information about the real costs of substance use on employers and businesses. By answering questions, employers can determine how substance use in their workplace can negatively impact their budget. [14]

Promising Practices