Workplace drug abuse: Your practice is not immune

August 1, 2008

For any practice, employee drug abuse can lead to a substantial decrease in productivity and an increase in accidents, both on and off the job.

Key Points

Unfortunately, this is a true storyAfter reading this article, you will understand how to recognize drug abuse, what to do to prevent it, and what actions to take if you discover it in your office.

Additionally, employee drug abuse leads to the abuser's increased absenteeism. When employees are impaired, they are responsible for more mistakes, missed deadlines, incomplete projects, and/or inaccurate work. Most important, impairment can result in mistakes that jeopardize patient safety. To support their drug habit, abusers are responsible for higher than normal instances of employee theft.

Signs of drug abuse

Most substance abusers display classic, easily recognizable signs and symptoms. Employees using drugs often arrive late in the morning or after lunch. They leave the job early and have unexplained absences during the day. They often have vague ailments and call in with complaints that require them to miss work. Often, they encounter serious family problems, divorce, or both.

You may hear from fellow workers about the employee's behavior or about deterioration in their work performance. Substance abusers often overreact to real or imagined criticism. They make frequent and repeated mistakes. Missing deadlines and working at a spasmodic pace are common. Substance abusers often have financial problems and may ask to borrow money from fellow employees. They frequently ask for salary advances.

Taking action

If an employee is suspected to be under the influence, remove the employee from the workplace. Suspension protects the employee from a work-related injury or from injuring a patient.

Someone in authority, such as the office manager or the physician managing director, should address job performance issues in a direct and timely manner. Plan what you will say. Develop an agenda and decide how to conduct the meeting.

During the discussion, describe your observations factually and emphasize the need for performance improvement. Be specific with examples. Give clear expectations and explain what actions, including termination, may be taken if performance does not improve.

If you suspect an employee's job performance is impaired due to substance abuse, offer resources for personal or work-related problems that may be affecting the employee's performance. A referral to an employee assistance program may help you address a performance issue.

Encourage the employee to get help. Every state has substance abuse treatment centers. To find a center near your practice, go to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association web site ( http://www.dasis3.samhsa.gov/).