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The Real Cost of Substance Abuse

Previous Lifelines articles have covered the toll that substance abuse can take on construction laborers and their families. But beyond the individual effects on workers and their families, employers are also affected by lost time, employee turnover and ongoing health care costs. These costs can quickly add up, and a new tool from the National Safety Council (NSC) is helping employers calculate how much.

LIUNA General
and LHSFNA Labor
Armand E. Sabitoni

The NSC’s Substance Use Cost Calculator uses employment data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and factors in a company’s state, industry and number of employees. According to the calculator, a construction company in California with 100 employees can expect to spend a little over $40,000 per year in costs related to substance abuse. You can run the same calculation for your company by clicking here.

“Whether it’s misusing prescription drugs and alcohol or the abuse of marijuana, opioids or other drugs, substance abuse can contribute to negative health effects, poor job performance and strained relationships with family members, friends and coworkers,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “The LHSFNA continues to work to educate LIUNA members and their families about the dangers of substance abuse and how to avoid them.”

Almost 21 million people in the U.S. suffer from substance use disorders and 75 percent of those people are part of the workforce. And those statistics don’t include the family members of those affected by substance abuse who often end up sharing in the emotional, physical and financial toll. Construction employers should also be aware that substance abuse disorders are more common in some industries than others.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), between 2008-2012 the construction industry ranked second among all industries for substance use disorders, with 14 percent of workers affected. The effects of substance abuse can result in increased absenteeism, health care expenses and lost productivity.

Helping Workers Get the Treatment They Need

Employers can help their employees and decrease the costs related to substance abuse by starting or maintaining programs designed to help workers seek treatment and enter recovery. According to the NSC’s cost calculator, every employee who recovers from a substance abuse disorder saves the company about $3,200 per year.

The LHSFNA recommends all employers have clearly defined policies regarding substance abuse and the consequences of a positive drug test and share these policies with employees. The Fund also recommends that drug-free workplace policies include language that allows employees to come forward about a problem with drugs or alcohol before being selected for a drug test. Policies should also provide an opportunity for employees to seek assistance after a positive test for drugs or alcohol.

Educating all workers about the health and safety risks and causes of substance abuse can raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with these disorders. It may also deter employees from using drugs and encourage those affected to get the help they need.

The LHSFNA offers many resources that can help LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions and signatory contractors address drug-free workplace issues from both an organizational and individual standpoint. These resources include reviewing policies and developing and providing employee and supervisor education and training. The Fund has educational materials on alcohol, prescription drugs, marijuana and opioids that can be used during toolbox talks, safety trainings or to raise awareness. These items are available through our online Publications Catalogue. For more information, contact the Fund’s Health Promotion Division at 202-628-5465.

[Nick Fox]

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