Address to the Fourth International Private Sector Conference on|
Drugs in the Workplace and the Community Sundsvall, Sweden
10 May 1999 Mr. Gale Day
Representative of the Executive Director
United Nations Drug Control Programme
Good morning. I want to thank the Mayor, Ms. Ewa Back, the City of Sundsvall and its partners, particularly SCA, for hosting this event. I also would like to extend my gratitude to my colleagues at ILO and the Council for Alcohol and Narcotic Matters - ALNA - for making this conference possible. The support of the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs is, of course, also appreciated.
Our joint efforts in the six years since the first such conference in Seville are a good example of the benefits of working together to bring substance abuse prevention programmes into the workplace. As we examine progress in Europe over the next two days, we should remind ourselves how far we have come. One thing that we have learned for sure is that the public and private sector can cooperate to build a partnership to address substance abuse issues effectively in the workplace. But there is more we can do.
Today I want to talk about why it is important to continue our efforts. And I also want to share with you what UNDCP and its partners are already doing to create more productive workplaces free from substance abuse.
As many of you know, there was a Special Session of the U.N. General Assembly last June on the subject of drugs. In the political declaration that was adopted at the Special Session the international community called upon, among others, business and union leadership to actively promote a society free of drugs. The call in the Declaration implies that prevention in the workplace plays a critical role in reducing drug abuse in the 21st century. This strong recommendation was due in large part to the growing societal importance of private industry in the age of globalization. More people have access to greater amounts of information, goods and services than ever before, and much of this is in the hands of the private sector in a climate of both political and economic freedom.
But along with the benefits this brings, there have been social downsides to this fast-paced and almost explosive change. The widespread abuse of illegal drugs - largely a phenomenon of the past 30 years - now affects 3 to 4 percent of the world's population. Over 140 million people use cannabis and more than 21 million people use heroin and cocaine.
In Europe alone, it is estimated that one million people use heroin, and most countries in Western Europe report increases in cocaine consumption between 1995 and 1997. In recent years, abuse of amphetamine-type stimulants, such as ecstasy, is on the rise. There are 30 million abusers worldwide, and the problem is especially acute in Europe. In Sweden, for example, the majority of injecting drug users are injecting amphetamine-type stimulants. In Stockholm, twenty percent of patients in drug abuse treatment centres are trying to overcome the effects of amphetamines.
The drug problem thus remains very much with us, but it is changing along with the changing society, and we must constantly analyse and reflect to ensure that we have the most appropriate prevention strategies to match the new situations. These new situations must be faced in an environment which is seeing in many parts of the world a marked decrease in the involvement of the state in health and social issues. People are being asked more and more to look after themselves at the level of their local communities, and the determining factors become the family, the neighbourhood, the town and the workplace.
The economic advantages of a drug-free workplace
Why do I add the workplace to this list? It may surprise some of you to know that studies have determined that sixty percent of drug abusers are employed. Workers spend most of their waking lives at their jobs. After the family, work is regarded as the most significant social system in the lives of people. Strong substance abuse prevention programmes are obviously important for basic health reasons. But they are also a key to higher productivity. Drug abuse among workers erodes the fruits of labor through absenteeism, accidents and higher health-care costs. Estimates by the United States Department of Labor in the mid-1990's found that drug abuse in the workplace may have cost American business between 75 and 100 billion dollars a year - or more than 1 percent of annual GDP.
Of course, the damages differ from company to company and from place to place. Nevertheless, it is estimated that drug and alcohol abusers miss two to three times more workdays than other employees do. Twenty to twenty-five per cent of accidents at work involve intoxicated people, and employees with chemical dependence problems claim three times as many sickness benefits and file five times as many worker's compensation claims as a drug-free worker. There are thus some very "bottom-line" reasons for addressing the problem.
The jointly-developed UNDCP-ILO model programmes on substance abuse prevention in the workplace emphasize both prevention and assistance programmes, jointly designed by management, employees and the community. All three of these "stakeholders" have strong social and economic interests in preventing drug abuse in the workplace.
When companies agree upon a written policy defining substance abuse as a health problem, and encourage prevention, workers have the chance to stop drug abuse before it becomes even more serious. These model programmes also emphasize structured referral systems for counseling and community services and are crucial to the creation of a healthier work environment. From this core concept, the Association of Resource Managers against Drugs and Alcohol - ARMADA -- has been developed as a viable model for networking among enterprises.
Over the years we have learned that broad, general primary prevention initiatives are not as effective as more focused interventions like those that can be developed in connection with the workplace. There are already plenty of success stories to point to in more than forty countries around the world. I will mention only a few cases.
In southern Brazil, companies are making great strides in reducing substance abuse in the workplace. The prevention programme operated through the Social Service Industry of Rio Grande do Sul (SESI), and involving UNDCP and ILO, is very clearly a success. You will hear more about this achievement in the presentation tomorrow by SESI President Mr. Dagoberto Lima Godoy, but I want to highlight some of the achievements.
The programme is based upon the creation of on-the-job prevention committees, made up of trained employees. These committees extend the reach of the drug-free message and offer workers new opportunities to show leadership and support to their colleagues.
The number of employees who consider themselves "drug-free" has increased in just over two years from 58 to 77 percent in companies with effective programmes in place. This model is now being considered in other parts of Brazil and South America. The project is mainly financed by the private sector itself, a practice which will continue in the future.
Mexico has also been another success story in our global programme for prevention in the workplace. One of the participating companies reported that after using our model, absenteeism dropped from 7 to just under 4 percent. And as the rate of accidents also fell, productivity increased.
Drug and alcohol-related problems affecting workers have become a matter of serious concern in central and eastern Europe as state-planned economies begin to experience the pressures of the competitive world market. UNDCP and ILO have succeeded across the region in setting up ARMADAs and emphasizing the shared responsibility for primary prevention. In Poland, for example, participants include leading companies like Rokita Chemicals, Power Engineering Technical Services and the Rolling Stock Company. In the Ukraine, several companies have moved away from strict disciplinary measures against employees with substance abuse problems and accepted the more economically viable UNDCP/ILO concept of prevention and joint employer-worker-community involvement.
Sundsvall, Sweden and Western Europe:
In Western Europe there has also been great progress. In Sweden, the ALNA Council has been a trend setter. Six hundred member organizations have been organized into joint safety committees. Each company has ALNA group representatives responsible for developing its own substance abuse programmes.
Right here in Sundsvall, companies, local government and the school system are working together under a common policy to reduce the demand for drugs. More than 15 thousand people - half the work force of the city - are part of the programme. In every workplace there is a task force which actively works with the anti-drug programme. One company, SCA, estimates that its bottom-line gain from using rehabilitation rather than re-hiring and re-training is more than 500 thousand Swedish Krona per year.
There are similar success stories across Scandinavia. In Norway, the Tripartite Committee on the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Problems in the Workplace (AKAN) also has a distinguished record of providing support to enterprises on a nationwide basis. Ten years ago, in Denmark, about one third of all enterprises had developed a substance abuse policy. Today, more than 80 percent have such policies.
Other European countries such as Austria and Spain have recently passed legislation that places greater responsibility on employers and raises awareness about the importance of workplace substance abuse prevention programmes. And Italy's EURIDICE project, which views drug abuse in the wider context of social and health concerns, is also a very encouraging case.
The establishment of a European Network for Workplace Health Promotion is yet another positive development. The acknowledgment that a healthy, drug-free workforce is essential to the economic and social well being of the European Union is an important first step in building a continent-wide programme.
Europe can do better:
But Europe can do better. In Belgium, for example, a recent study showed that over 60 percent of enterprises did not have any formal procedures on substance abuse in the workplace. Similar studies in France, Portugal and Greece found limited official corporate policies on abuse of drugs and alcohol among workers. Clearly, Europe has a lot of work to do before it can be considered an international example.
Earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Secretary-General of the United Nations said that he hoped the business community and the U.N. would build a creative partnership "to embrace, support and enact a set of core values." A sensible substance abuse prevention programme in the workplace is one of these basic rights. And I am proud of how far we have come in recent years. We are reaching people at the individual level and delivering results by providing more drug-free environments and better treatment for those in need.
But let us not rest on our laurels. For better or worse, the 21st century economy is going to be a Darwinian one. The strong will win out, and Europe must continue to make its workforce healthier and more competitive. At the same time, we must resist the market-style urge to care only about the survival of the fittest. Workers in need deserve the help of their colleagues, employers and the community to free themselves from substance abuse. It is my hope that, together, we will be there to lend workers a helping hand.
If I could have only one message to leave with you it would be this: it IS possible to do something about drug abuse. There are methodologies. There are successes. Do not believe those people who say the opposite. They are simply wrong. The workplace initiatives that we will learn more about during these days prove this. So we can lend a helping hand both as a gesture of human solidarity and as an act of good business sense, in full confidence that there are solutions available.