High Drug Use Among Workers

The worker sitting right next to you could be a drug user, new federal figures suggest. CBS News Correspondent Howard Arenstein reports.

Government data for 1997 shows there were 13 million drug users nationwide.

"Of those 13 million, 70 percent or more have jobs, and unfortunately they tend to be lousy employees," White House drug policy director Barry McCaffrey told CBS Radio News.

"They're a problem to recruit, to train, to keep on the job, they cause a lot of accidents, absenteeism," McCaffrey said.

Officials hope the 7 out of 10 figure will dispel notions that most drug users are burned out and disconnected from the mainstream.

"The typical drug user is not poor and unemployed," McCaffrey said. "He or she can be a co-worker, a husband or wife, a parent."

The report, issued every few years by the Department of Health and Human Services, found 7.7 percent of workers age 18 to 49 had used illegal drugs in the preceding month, a figure that has been steady since 1992.

HHS officials were using the report's findings to encourage businesses to establish treatment programs. Increasingly, drug users are working in medium-sized companies, which have the resources to establish these programs, they said. Still, 44 percent of drug users were working for small businesses -- those with fewer than 25 employees -- down from 57 percent in 1994 but still the largest category.

"Whether you are a corporate CEO or a small-business owner, you need to know that simple, low-burden, effective steps...can increase workplace safety and productivity and lower substance abuse and its human and economic effects," said a statement by Nelba Chavez, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the HHS agency that produced the report.

The report also found that in 1997:

  • Young adults, men, whites and those with less than a high school education were more likely to use drugs than other workers.
  • Nineteen percent of food preparation workers, waiters, waitresses and bartenders used illegal drugs. For construction workers, it was 14 percent; for transportation and material moving workers, it was 10 percent.
  • Workers who used drugs were more likely to have worked for three or more employers, to have left a job in the past year and to have skipped a day or more of work in the past month.