One out of every 12 full-time workers in the United States used an illegal drug in the past month, according to survey data released Monday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The survey indicated that 8.2% of full-time workers -- or 9.4 million people, including 7.3 million marijuana smokers -- were past-month illegal drug users.
The survey also found that about 10.1 million full-time workers were heavy alcohol users, defined as downing five drinks at a time at least five times a month. Although SAMSHA's inclusion of past-month drug users with heavy alcohol drinkers suggests an equivalence between the two groups, that is not borne out by its estimates of dependence or abuse among the two. Of the 9.4 million illegal drug users, less than a third met SAMSHA's dependency or abuse criteria -- which undoubtedly overstate the number of problem substance users -- while the number dependent on alcohol or who abused alcohol was 10.5 million -- more than the number identified as heavy drinkers.
The report found the highest rates of current illicit drug use were among food service workers (17.4%) and construction workers (15.1%). Highest rates of current heavy alcohol use were found among construction, mining, excavation and drilling workers (17.8%), and installation, maintenance, and repair workers (14.7%). Public security workers, librarians, and health workers had the lowest rates of illegal drug use.
Other, unsurprising, findings: Young people were more likely to be illegal drug users or heavy drinkers, and drug users were less likely to work for employers who had drug testing programs.
Government anti-drug officials used the survey data release to raise alarms about workplace drug use and call for expanded drug testing. "Substance abuse is a serious problem for the health, wellbeing and productivity of everyone in the workplace," said SAMHSA Administrator Terry Cline.
"Employees who use drugs miss work more often, are less healthy, and are more prone to harming themselves and others in the workplace," said drug czar John Walters. "We hope that employers will take note of this report and consider implementing workplace drug testing policies that can help prevent drug use before it starts, help identify drug-using employees who need drug treatment services and also reduce employers' liability from drug-related workplace accidents."
"The high rates of drug and alcohol use in hazardous industries is cause for concern," said Elena Carr, drug policy coordinator at the US Department of Labor (DOL). "Clearly businesses can ill-afford the risk of having workers operating meat slicers, backhoes, or other dangerous equipment while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which is one reason why DOL helps employers and employees work together to proactively prevent such safety hazards."
Of course, admitting to past month drug use or heavy drinking does not necessarily equate to "operating… dangerous equipment under the influence of alcohol or drugs." While the people paid to send out anti-drug messages see only danger, an alternative reading of the data could suggest that millions of American workers manage to hold down jobs despite smoking a joint on the weekend or perhaps drinking too much.
The report is Worker Substance Use and Workplace Policies and Programs.