Substance Abuse Costs Canadians Almost 40+ Billion Annually

Hard working and efficient employees can be your greatest asset; while sluggish, unreliable employees can be your greatest liability! The Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse (CCSA) reported that substance abuse costs the Canadian economy more than 40 billion annually in healthcare costs, loss of productivity and costs related to law enforcement in 2002. A number which is only increasing. The costs to businesses that result from substance abuse are staggering! Statistics Canada reports that 1 in 10 Canadians have symptoms consistent with substance dependency. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), statistics show that roughly 1 in 7 Canadians have alcohol-related problems, while 1 in 20 use cannabis, with 1% dependent on illegal drugs.
Clearly, this is an issue that organizations choose to ignore, even though we know that abuse of these substances lead to increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, and contribute to unsafe work environments that can involve accidents, injuries and even deaths. Let us not forget the direct and indirect costs associated with turnover, health benefits, low morale, theft and other factors related with addiction.

4258 – The number of deaths attributed to alcohol in Canada in 2002
1,550,554 – The number of acute care hospital stays in days, due to alcohol in 2002
25.5% – Proportion of Canadians who say they drink heavily
17% – Proportion of drinkers considered to be at high risk

In Canada, there are not a lot of studies or reports regarding drug and alcohol as a cause of workplace injuries and accidents. A study of 459 workplace deaths conducted in Alberta, revealed that 10 workers tested positive for cannabis, and 40 tested positive for alcohol and 50 tested positive for either prescription or non-prescription drugs. And in the U.S.A., according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), 4,628 workers were killed on the job in 2012, and between 10 and 20 percent of American workers who died at work tested positive for drugs or alcohol. It bears the question; could some of these deaths have been prevented? Additionally, 25% of workers involved in a workplace accident have tested positive for drugs or alcohol. In the UK, they attribute 1 out of 4 workplace accidents to be alcohol related.

So Why is it so hard for employers to take action? Clearly there is a direct correlation between substance abuse and workplace accidents. What are we doing about it? Unfortunately most organizations are looking the other way because most employers either don’t know what to do, or they think it is the employee’s personal problem, not the company’s problem. Notably, most companies do have EAP programs and good polices in place; however, they tend to sit on the shelf collecting dust!

In saying that, employers have an obligation to provide a safe work environment for all their workers under current legislation. Substance abuse is a safety issue, it effects everyone, and employers need to develop strategic and integrated solutions that can prevent future problems. The sooner we can get past our own belief systems and understand that addiction is a bona fide chronic and treatable medical condition that effects the workplace, the sooner we can move towards building a foundation for a substance free workplace.

The first step is to create an environment that values the wellness and safety of its employees and one that takes a proactive approach:

• Have a Substance Abuse Policy in place, and ensure your employees are aware of the Policy
• Protect the Health & Safety of your workers
• Know the signs to look for – provide training to managers and supervisors on how to identify changes in behaviour and how and when to intervene
• Provide easily accessible and visible information and resources for support for employees
• Invite speakers from the community to do a workplace presentation during lunch hour
• Recognize substance abuse needs to be treated as both a mental illness and an addiction
• Companies who lack expertise, or who don’t have resources can benefit from a third party to assist with these types of issues
• Stop enabling employees, simply hold employees accountable for their actions and do not allow them to continue inappropriate behavior, such as, letting them get away with tardiness/poor attendance, extended lunches, strained relationships with co-workers, unexplained time away from work stations, accidents on the job, careless or sloppy work and avoidance of supervisory contact
• Recognize this is everyone’s problem…chances are you already have one or more people with a substance abuse problem working for you.

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