A recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration revealed that 19.1% of all adults employed in the accommodation and food services industry used illicit drugs in the past month, up 16.9% from 2003 to 2007. Researchers attribute this to working environments that combine easy access to alcohol, long shifts without meal breaks, and dark rooms full of people drinking. The result of this substance abuse is nearly $81 billion in costs to employers each year, by way of chronic lateness, lackadaisical attitudes about safety, and poor job performance. The Department of Labor reports that drug and alcohol abuse contributes to up to 65% of on-the-job accidents and up to 50% of workers’ compensation claims. Substance abusers also use three times the normal level of employee health benefits, and incur 300% higher medical costs.
Intoxication is an affirmative defense in workers’ compensation claims, which helps employers defend against claims brought by employees injured as a result of their own substance abuse. The costs, however, remain high. Employees that are not using drugs may suffer injury as a result of intoxicated employees’ actions. There is no simple way to resolve this issue, which has undoubtedly been compounded by the tremendous increase in the past several years in opioid dependency. It will be interesting to see whether recent efforts to curb the opioid epidemic will have any impact on the number of substance abusers in the workforce.