Drug Recognition Program Targets Texas Employers

A collage of drug scenarios within a map of Texas

Texas employers will learn about the signs and symptoms of drug impairment among workers at an inaugural program being held at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) June 14. The free, six-hour program will be available to all Texas employers after September 1, 2011.

"This program will assist Texas employers in identifying the signs and symptoms of drug impairment," said Regina Ernst Guthrie, project coordinator for the Drug Impairment Training for Texas Employers (DITTE). "Many employers don’t realize that alcohol is the number one abused drug. This is a huge issue, an immense issue. We will send participants home with sample policies and contacts for employee assistance programs."

The program, funded by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), will target 600 Texas employers, including human resources and public affairs professionals, business owners, and senior and executive managers from small, medium and large companies. The training includes how to recognize impairment from illicit, prescription and over-the-counter drugs as well as alcohol and is designed to make Texas roads safer.

"I didn’t realize how wide spread drug use is," said Samantha Manning, DITTE’s graduate assistant involved with the program. "Even if someone is taking the prescribed dosage of a prescription drug, they might not have the full use of their mental and physical faculties."

The consequences of drug use on the job are staggering. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 75 percent of all adults using illicit drugs are employed, as well as most binge drinkers and heavy alcohol users. Nationally, for example, full-time workers aged 18-49 who reported any current illicit drug use were more likely than those reporting no current illicit drug use to have:

  • worked for three or more employers in the past year;
  • taken an unexcused absence from work in the past month;
  • voluntarily left an employer in the last year; or
  • been fired by an employer in the last year.

According to a survey sponsored by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, illicit drug-using employees are more likely:

  • to request early dismissal or time off;
  • to have absences of eight days or more;
  • to be late for work;
  • to be involved in a workplace accident; and
  • to file workers’ compensation.

According to the National Safety Council, motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of on- and off-the-job accidental deaths in the U.S. In addition to making roads safer, addressing substance abuse issues can save companies money. In Texas, employers can save an estimated $13,514 a year in health care and related costs for each employee identified with a drug and alcohol issue. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that Texas employers spend $4.3 billion a year as the result of employee traffic accidents.

In recent years, abuse of prescription drugs has become a threat on the job. While marijuana is the most prevalent illegal drug problem nationwide, the abuse of pain killers ranks second. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 50 percent of Americans use one prescription drug for medical reasons on a regular basis, while 20 percent of Americans have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes in their lifetime.

The training will include information on depressants, such as muscle relaxers and anti-anxiety medications; stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamines; hallucinogens, such as mushrooms and LSD; dissociative anesthetics, such as PCP and DXM medication; narcotic analgesics, such as heroin and Oxycontin; inhalants, such as paint and Dust-off; and drug combinations. Also, participants will be given a brief overview of the K-2 legislation as well as information on “bath salts” which are currently receiving extensive national media coverage.

The pre-pilot program will host businesses and officials from Walker County. Among the agencies invited are Sam Houston State University, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Huntsville Memorial Hospital, the City of Huntsville, the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce, the Walker County District Attorney’s Office, and ARAMARK.

The program will be available over the next two years and will be held at regional locations throughout the state. Employers interested in hosting and participating in a future training session may contact Regina at (936) 294-4640 or at icc_rae@shsu.edu.

Member of The Texas State University System