Creating a Drug-Free Workplace


By Victor Parziale, Ernest Victor Consulting

History of the Drug-Free Workplace

On September 14, 1986, President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation’s current drug epidemic, in particular the distribution and use of cocaine and crack cocaine. This resulted in the passage of the Anti–Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (amended in 1988) in an effort to fight the war on drugs.1 As part of the anti-drug legislation, Congress also enacted the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988. The act mandated that federal grantees and contractors certify that they had implemented a drug-free workplace. Grantees were required to establish a written drug-free workplace policy, which informed employees that the unlawful possession, distribution, or manufacturing of a controlled substance in the workplace was prohibited.2 Although there is no comprehensive federal drug-testing law, many states and employers have since passed provisions that impose various drug-testing regulations. In addition, many employees who are working in the transportation industry, or in safety-sensitive positions, have been required to participate in random drug testing.

How Did the Opioid Epidemic Begin?

Today, employers have an even more compelling reason to start a drug-free workplace program because of an unfortunate cascade of events that caused the current “opioid epidemic.”  It began with the addition of a fifth vital sign to be used during medical exams. That vital sign is “pain,” and it was added in 2001 after the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations made recommendations for pain management standards. This transpired even though the Joint Commission specifically stated that “pain is a symptom, not a vital sign.”3 Since then there has been massive over-approval, over-production, and over-prescription of highly addictive opioids (a.k.a. pain pills) to address pain in medical patients. From 1993 to 2015 the quantity of opioids produced by pharmaceutical companies increased more than 39-fold, which year by year has been approved by the DEA due to lobbying by drug companies.4 As a result of easy, legal access, individuals with chronic pain and other conditions became addicted to prescription painkillers. A recent CDC study showed if a patient was prescribed a 10-day supply of opioid medication, there was a 1-in-5 chance that the patient would continue to use pain pills one year later.5 Moreover, if the patient’s doctor stopped prescribing pain pills, the patient would go into immediate withdrawal, triggering him or her to buy illicit pills on the street.

How Do Pain Pills Lead to Heroin?

We all have opioid receptors in our brains. When we are injured, the brain produces natural (or endogenous) opioids to block pain, slow breathing, and calm us down. However, these receptors can be essentially “hijacked” by opioids from an outside source, whether pharmaceutical (like Codeine, Vicodin, or Percocet) or illicit (like heroin or Fentanyl).  According to experts in the field, the individual addicted to pain pills quickly learns on the street that heroin is 5 to 10 times cheaper than pills yet it binds to the same opioid receptors to reduce pain and create euphoria.6 At Governor Tom Wolf’s Opioid Panel Discussion, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan stated that “80 percent of first-time heroin users in our state started with opioid pain pills.”7 That is why the Commonwealth Prevention Alliance launched a drug awareness campaign for the citizens of our state ( in 2015, featuring the tagline “Anyone Can Become Addicted. Anyone.” That is why that same year a state-funded program was launched in order to raise awareness about substance abuse in the workplace. Victor Parziale worked as the Program Supervisor in charge of this effort for three years. In 2018, Victor launched his own business, Ernest Victor Consulting LLC. He now advises employers on how to address substance abuse in the workplace in order to improve safety and reduce costs.

Where Has the Opioid Epidemic Gone?

Employers need to be aware that in 2016, according to CDC data, 64,000 deaths were caused by drug overdoses in our nation. This year surpassed deaths caused by auto accidents, the death rate of the AIDS epidemic at its peak, and it even surpassed the death rate of every cancer except for bronchial and lung cancer. Pennsylvania ranked fourth in the nation for age-adjusted drug overdose death rates that same year.8 According to DEA Philadelphia Field Division Special Agent Gary Tuggle, “It’s only going to get worse, not better.”9 This statement was recently proven true by new data published by the office of the U.S. Surgeon General in which researchers show that as many as 70,000 deaths were unreported or misclassified between 1999 and 2015. The state with the highest number of unassigned overdose deaths: Pennsylvania, at more than 11,000.10 The reason employers need to be concerned is because a 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that of current illicit drug users aged 18 or older in 2012, more than 70 percent were employed either full or part time, and nearly 90 percent of those illicit drug users worked for small- to medium-sized companies of 500 employees or less (according to U.S. Census Bureau and SAMHSA data).11 The good news is that based on multiple studies from NIDA (2009), the implementation of a drug-free workplace program can improve the health and wellness of employees and provide a return on investment (ROI) ranging from 600 percent to 1200 percent.12 Since more than 17 million illicit drug users are employed, it is more important than ever for an employer to proactively address this epidemic by having a drug-free workplace program in place.13

Drug-Free Workplace Program Essentials

There are five components to a drug-free workplace program for any organization. All of these components are recommended to ensure an effective program:

  1. Drug-Free Workplace Policy

The two primary reasons for writing a drug-free workplace policy into your employee manual are to 1) send a clear message about what is prohibited in the workplace and 2) encourage employees to voluntarily seek help for drug or alcohol problems. Stating that you have a drug-free workplace policy is a major hindrance to applicants who are alcohol abusers or illicit drug users, thus helping to protect the safety of employees and the interests of your organization. It also directs employees to the right resources when they are ready to voluntarily seek help. Ernest Victor Consulting can guide you through the steps of customizing the best drug-free workplace policy for your business.

  1. Supervisor Training

A key component of a drug-free workplace program is supervisor training, since it is the supervisor who has to directly manage the employee suffering from a substance use disorder.  This training discusses the cost of substance abuse to the employer, identification of paraphernalia and drugs of abuse, recognition of the signs of abuse in an employee, how to fill out a reasonable suspicion form, how to handle confidentiality, and how to address employees in addiction before or after determination of reasonable cause in the workplace.

  1. Employee Education

Employee education helps employees recognize the signs of abuse in a co-worker, and it helps working parents to keep their children drug free. This education also includes information on the science of addiction, identification of paraphernalia and drugs of abuse, risk behaviors, enabling in the workplace, and how to confidentially get help or help co-workers suffering from a substance use disorder.

  1. Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

An EAP supports three important ideas in a drug-free workplace: 1) Employees are a vital part of business and valuable members of the team; 2) it is better to offer assistance to employees than to terminate them; and 3) recovering employees can, once again, become productive and effective members of the workforce. An EAP gives supervisors tools to deal with troubled employees while allowing them to be focused on work performance rather than employees’ personal lives. It provides a phone number for both the supervisor and employees to call in order to confidentially reach EAP professionals who can help address personal problems early and prevent employees from using alcohol or drugs in order to relieve stress.

  1. Drug & Alcohol Testing

Drug and alcohol testing helps employers to enforce their drug-free workplace program. By doing so, employers ensure workplace safety, employee health, and organizational productivity and profitability. This course covers how drug testing is conducted, who is allowed access to the results of a drug test, when drug tests are conducted, the various methods of drug testing, and what drugs can be detected through testing.

Victor Parziale

Implementation of a drug-free workplace program is critical for any organization that needs to address workplace health, wellness, safety, and productivity in a cost-effective manner. In-person trainings are available for each of the program components listed above by contacting Ernest Victor Consulting LLC. For more information, please visit, call us at (717) 215-9919 or email us at

  1. Wikipedia, “Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986,” updated May 22, 2017,
  2. Wikipedia, “Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988,” updated August 21, 2014,
  3. Baker, David W., “The Joint Commission’s Pain Standards: Origins and Evolution,” published May 5, 2017,
  4. Temple, John, “DEA Secretly OKs Killer Quantities of Oxy and Morphine,” The Daily Beast, published October 21, 2017,
  5. Anuj Shah; Corey J. Hayes; Bradley C. Martin, “Characteristics of Initial Prescription Episodes and Likelihood of Long-Term Opioid Use — United States, 2006–2015,” CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 17, 2017, 66 (10),
  6. Benedict, Carey; “Prescription Painkillers Seen as a Gateway to Heroin,” The New York Times, published February 10, 2014,
  7. Governor Tom Wolf’s Opioid Panel Discussion, a Meeting of 250 Professionals at the Governor’s Residence, May 4, 2016, accessed July 5, 2017,
  8. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Drug Overdose Death Data,” 2016 calendar year, updated December 19, 2017,
  9. The Opioid Forum: An Rx for the Workplace, The Union League of Philadelphia, sponsored by The Philadelphia Inquirer and, May 16, 2017.
  10. Science Daily, “70K opioid-related deaths likely went unreported due to incomplete death certificates,” June 27, 2018,
  11. Working Partners and SAPAA, “Statistics—General Workplace Impact,” 2012, accessed July 25, 2018,
  12. NIDA, “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition),” published December 2012, accessed July 25, 2018,
  13. Working Partners and SAPAA, “Statistics—General Workplace Impact,” 2012, accessed July 25, 2018,