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Intervention in the Workplace is key to addressing substance abuse

By Dr Richard Malkin (BSc, MBChB), MD of Workforce Healthcare
South Africa has built itself the dubious reputation of having one of the highest rates of substance abuse in the world, with 15% of the population, or 1 in 10 people, being diagnosed with a drug problem. In fact, the abuse of hard drugs, alcohol and prescription drugs is estimated to cost the country in excess of R20 billion each year. (References below).
That’s over and above the upward impact that substance abuse has on crime statistics, with the South African Police Service (SAPS) estimating that substance abuse is a factor in 60% of crimes nationally, with this figure climbing as high as 80% in the Western Cape. Criminals involved in these crimes are either under the influence of a narcotic, or they are committing a crime to facilitate their next fix.
These are the individuals who are beyond desperate – their lives have spiraled out of control. When they first flirted with substance abuse as a coping mechanism, they were likely employed with a stable income, but when they turned to narcotics as a coping mechanism to deal with a life event, nobody noticed, nobody offered help, or there was simply no easy access to the kind of help that they needed to deal with their circumstances.
This is where an integrated Substance Abuse and Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) can play a meaningful role in helping workers avoid, prevent or deal with substance abuse, before it is too late, before they resort to a life of crime to keep themselves afloat. While the goings-on in an employee’s personal life certainly doesn’t fall within the responsibilities of an employer, companies can support their personnel by providing the tools they need to manage their stress, address substance abuse problems, and offer them support on their road to recovery. Employers who offer these interventions will benefit by reduced absenteeism and increased productivity, as well as a safer work place.
For example, the EAP offered by Workforce Healthcare a Workforce Holdings Limited company, aims to assist employees battling with substance addictions by guiding them towards a healthier, drug-free lifestyle.
This is done first through education, teaching workers about the many negative impacts of substance abuse – and that substance abuse is not just about illegal drugs, it includes the abuse of legally available ‘fixes’ like alcohol and prescription medication.
Qualified and specially trained nurses then discuss the random, confidential drug testing process, which they will carry out at random on pre-employment, annual medical examinations, when there is an incident and on suspicion. Candidates yielding positive results will be offered confidential counseling, and can be referred to the most appropriate in- or out-patient treatment facility through the EAP.
Programmes like this are not just successful because they ‘catch’ people who have fallen victim to substance abuse; they raise awareness in the workplace, and provide access to treatment for those who may not have known where to turn for the help they need. Giving employees access to a trained, compassionate professional, without their friends and family being informed, may well give them the impetus they need to take control of their lives.
It’s also true employees spend more of their awake time at work than they do with their families, and the signs and consequences of substance abuse are more likely to be noticed in the work environment. These consequences may be as intangible as behavioral problems on site, or they may be as destructive as endangering the lives other employees through the irresponsible use of dangerous equipment.

Addressing Substance Abuse

Providing a professional testing and counseling service can help prevent damaging or life-threatening events in the workplace, while investing in employees to help them achieve their full potential.
Image of Dr Richard Malkin, MD of Workforce Healthcare
Dr Richard Malkin, MD of Workforce Healthcare
Health24: “1 in 10 in SA has an addiction problem
mybroadband – Drug abuse was costing South Africa R20 billion a year
About Workforce Healthcare (
Workforce Healthcare is a specialist health and wellness company with expertise in management and coordination of healthcare professionals and the development of customized, turnkey employee wellness solutions. Workforce Healthcare specialises in employee wellness programmes and wellness days, primary and occupational healthcare, mobile and fixed medical screening, substance abuse training and testing, HIV/AIDS testing and training, TB management, and absenteeism management. Workforce Healthcare, with its core brand DNA Wellness, is partly owned by Workforce Holdings Limited (JSE: WKF).