Corporate Leadership: The needle and damage done

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

Bob Stutman will soon be taking permanent residence in our state and leaving Pompano Beach, Fla. Imagine that! As a TEC (The Executive Committee) resource, he stands out among the best of the best, and I’ve been listening to TEC resource specialists for about 35 years.

Bob is a universally recognized expert on substance abuse. He was the former head of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in New York City. He has consulted with five presidents. He’s had a contract put out on him by the Columbian Cartel. He knows the drug business as well as we know our own businesses.

Most importantly, Bob is doing some great things for some of our kids in Wisconsin, most notably in Sheboygan and Burlington high schools, thanks to the support of TEC members who live and own businesses there.

This month, I hope to do nothing more than to remind you that drug abuse, this pernicious problem and killer of our children and our employees, is not going away anytime soon. The best way I can do this is by sharing some recent statistics and facts, in no particular order.

In 1968 in Wisconsin, youths, on average, first used drugs at the age of 16 years and six months. In 2005, it was 12 years and two months! Twenty years ago, our kids were sniffing glue to get high. Today, they use a kitchen product that most parents would never suspect: Pam. Why? Because of its non-adhesive characteristics.

Surprisingly, cocaine use today is down 50 percent. Heroin use is surprisingly up, and LSD is back with a vengeance. It’s a clear liquid, and you don’t need much of it to get high. Mushrooms and Bayer aspirins are the delivery systems of choice.

Here are some newcomers: Cranking, Hug Drugs, Roofies, Pharming, Easy Lay, Special K, Methamphetamine, Ecstasy, Rohypnol, OxyContin, GHB and Ketamine. They’re all available and popular in Wisconsin.

The OxyContin situation is most disturbing. It’s a narcotic drug approved for the treatment of moderate to several pain. And it’s a true killer! The kids take it from their parents’ medicine cabinets because it’s so widely prescribed by physicians who seem blind to its potential for abuse. Kids put it inside a small piece of Kleenex, crush it and swallow it — Kleenex and all — to produce a fast high.

What else do kids steal from medicine cabinets? Anything that can lead to a high if swallowed, crushed and blended with something else.

Ever heard of a “fruit salad” party?  Kids collect a bunch of pills from their medicine cabinets, bring them to a party, and put them in a big salad bowl and mix them up. They swallow a handful and wash it down with their favorite beverage alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage.

What drives kids to do any of this? Parental influence and control is obviously at the top of the list, but the three “A’s” say it all: availability; the absence of immediate harmful effects; and the attitude of adults toward alcohol, a legal drug.

Who are the big users in Wisconsin? Get ready for this. Of all users, 78 percent are white.  Youths in private schools abuse drugs 20 percent more than students in public schools.

Of a random sample of whites, blacks, and Hispanics who were asked if they used in the last 30 days, 19 percent of whites said they did, compared with 9 percent of the blacks and 8 percent of Hispanics.

Ninety percent of all alcoholics are employed, compared with 70 percent of drug users. In terms of intelligence, neither drug addicts nor alcoholics are dummies. They tend to have average or above average IQs.

Among alcoholics, professionals are especially susceptible. By the way, here’s a sad fact:  according to Stutman, Wisconsin has now achieved the distinct honor of having more alcoholics per capita than any other state!

Let’s focus on the workplace, where one out of six U.S. employees has a substance abuse problem. The top five industries for abuse are construction, health care, financial, manufacturing and distribution. Of particular concern are “safety sensitive employees” in these industries, where their actions can hurt themselves and others as well.

In fact, 70 percent of the time, substance abusers are involved in an accident but don’t injure themselves.

Compared with non-users, abusers have five times as much absenteeism, four times the turnover, 67 percent of the productivity output, 53 percent of the pilferage, 50 percent of the violence, four times the medical benefit claims and 35 percent of the accidents. Remember, we’re talking about 11 percent of the total workforce.

Bob offers several great tips for drug-testing.

• Do the 10-panel drug test and test for alcohol separately.

• After an accident, also test people near the employee who was hurt.

• Make sure to train supervisors on what to look for (reasonable suspicion tests are OK).

• Your drug policy must state that taking “adulterants,” which make a drug test unreadable, is same as testing positive for drugs.

• Pre-employment tests are useless because they only catch rank amateurs. Instead, do probability time testing anytime during the first 60 to 90 days of employment.

• If you must do pre-employment testing, make sure it’s done within 24 hours after it’s announced.

A final few comments on this scary subject. Did you know that if employees believe that their attendance is required at a company-sponsored function where alcohol is served, and they injure themselves, the company will be liable because the accident will be considered work-related?

Did you know that if a salesperson takes a client to dinner and gets reimbursed for alcohol consumed, and an accident happens, the company is liable for the same reason?

Here’s a final tip. Companies are most vulnerable in the area of “punitive damages,” because this is where the huge settlements occur. The Exxon Valdez accident, for instance, resulted in a $6 billion settlement.

Many will argue you can’t get coverage for punitive damages, but that’s not true. A TEC member in Madison who recently heard Stutman went to his insurer, asked for it and got it.

Until next month, put this on your “A” list of priorities to review at the personal level (kids, grandkids) and the corporate HR level (employees).

And by the way, an employer who says “we only serve beer at our outings” should know this: beer causes 70 percent of all workplace accidents. Drink two cans of beer in two hours and you’re four times more likely to have an accident.

Like I said, scary.

Harry S. Dennis III is the president of The Executive Committee (TEC) in Wisconsin and Michigan. TEC is a professional development group for CEOs, presidents and business owners. He can be reached at (262) 821-3340.

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