Last month we took a look at how the use of drugs has spread across our country at an alarming rate. As you will recall, it makes no difference where you live. You might be located in a rural area, big city, an affluent neighborhood, whatever. The scourge that is drugs is attacking all levels of society, every income level and occupation.

What makes our situation as shop owners so special is that we tend to hire a large number of younger people. And, the statistics show that younger people are more likely to abuse and become addicted to drugs than older people.

One may note I have not addressed alcohol as a “drug.” Actually, the use and addiction cycles are very similar. However, I wish to stay on topic and not wander off in the field with those who would argue that drugs and alcohol are different. We’ll deal with that some other time.

It must be known clearly up front, I am not a legal or accounting professional. I am also not a medical practitioner or authority of any kind beyond being a first responder. The bottom line is that you need real pros to assist in these issues to truly help your team.

A word as a parent: I have known a number of people, from a variety of situations that have had to deal with the gut-wrenching pain of watching a child or spouse deal with these issues. In some cases, it has torn families apart. I pray that none of us has to deal with this in our own families. But let’s face it; it is a fact of life for many. So, as you look through these materials, do think about your kids. As each generation tends to admit at some point, they had no idea what to look for or do when their child was using drugs.

Recognition is the beginning of healing and staying sober. Pretending that it can’t or isn’t happening in our own families will simply lead to an even larger disaster.

To write this article, I used many excellent resources. The edited list that follows is from a drug recovery program and is detailed enough to be of great help. Please read the list through a few times and think about those in your shop and family. If one or more of these signs is found, it is time to start taking a closer look at things.

Possible signs of drug use (or alcohol abuse for that matter):

• Problems in relationships. Drug abuse can cause a lot of conflict in families and couples, leading to fights and break-ups. Relationships at work and with friends may suffer.

• Legal and financial problems. A drug habit can be expensive, and it is also illegal. Abusing drugs can lead to overspending, getting into debt, maxing out credit cards, borrowing too much and trouble with the law.

• Decrease in performance. The altered states that drugs create can lead to a drop in performance at work or at school, even in someone who normally excels.

• Neglect of responsibilities. Someone who is abusing drugs is often more focused on the drugs than on other responsibilities to family and at home.

• Social withdrawal. Drug abuse often leads a person to hide his or her activities from family and friends, which can ultimately lead to withdrawal and little social contact.

• Lack of motivation and changes in thinking. While abusing drugs, a person may become apathetic and uninterested in accomplishing much of anything. They may also struggle to remember things, make decisions or think normally.

• Risky behaviors. Drug abuse can lead a person to do things he or she normally wouldn’t—things that are risky or dangerous, like stealing, driving under the influence or having unprotected sex.

• Unusual mood changes. A drug can have many effects on the body and mind, causing serious changes in mood. A person on drugs may be unusually depressed or anxious, or may be more energetic and euphoric than usual for no obvious reason.

• Changes in sleeping habits. Typically including sleeping more or sleeping less.

• Eyes that are red or watery; or pupils that are too large or too small.

• Poor coordination; stumbling when walking.

• Slurred speech; or saying things that are hard to understand or don’t make sense.

• Tremors or shaking in any part of the body.

• A persistent cough

• A persistent, runny nose

• Poor physical hygiene

• Changes in eating habits; with either weight loss or weight gain.

• Paleness, flushing, or puffiness in the face

Unusual smells on clothing, on the body or on the breath

For specific drug use:

• Marijuana. Use of marijuana causes red eyes, a glassy, blank stare, giddiness and inappropriate laughter, talking too loud, apathy and lack of motivation or interest in activities and changes in weight.

• Opioids. Opioids include heroin and prescription opioid painkillers like OxyContin, hydrocodone, Vicodin, Percocet, Demerol, and others. These drugs cause the pupils to contract (even in good lighting), loss of appetite, excessive sleeping, vomiting, coughing, sweating, twitches and sniffling. Someone using heroin is likely to have needle marks on the arms or feet.

• Stimulants. Stimulants are drugs that increase the activity of the central nervous system and include prescriptions like amphetamine and methamphetamine, as well as cocaine, crack and crystal meth (a crystallized form of methamphetamine). Stimulants cause euphoria, increased energy, alertness and less sleep, decreased appetite, weight loss, dry mouth, irritability and anxiety. Someone on stimulants may be hyper, talkative and cheerful, and then suddenly depressed.

• Depressants. Depressants are sedatives that cause relaxation and sleepiness. Prescription sedatives are used to treat insomnia and anxiety. They include barbiturates, tranquilizers and benzodiazepines. These drugs cause sleepiness, poor coordination, poor judgement, slurred speech, trouble concentrating and other signs similar to being drunk.

• Hallucinogens. These are drugs that cause hallucinations and include LSD, peyote, mushrooms, and PCP (or angel dust). In addition to hallucinations, they cause dilated pupils, confusion, slurred speech, paranoia, mood swings, detachment, aggression and preoccupation with certain things.

• Inhalants. Inhalants are typically household chemicals that can be inhaled to produce a high -- like glues, aerosols and paints. They cause memory problems, rashes around the mouth or nose, runny nose, vision problems, headaches, drowsiness, anxiety, nausea, poor control of muscles and changes in appetite.

Source: Alta Mira Recovery Systems, Others

Now, before you head out in the shop or home and demand a show of arms and feet for needle marks, STOP. Not only will it get you into a pile of legal issues, you will simply alienate absolutely everyone!

Instead, it is now time to begin watching the person/people more closely for other items from the list. It’s rare that any or only one issue arises and there aren’t others. And, it is time to start talking with professionals who understand the issues and are able to provide guidance. These may include:
• Your local police department’s drug officer(s)
• Your attorney
• A local or nearby treatment center. There are many. They include private systems that often offer some level of in-patient care and have people with extensive backgrounds in treatment of this type. The source for the prior list, Alta Mira Recovery Systems is just such a group. There are also a good number of faith-based systems. One I am proud to say I’ve supported and volunteered for is Teen Challenge. They also work with adults. Finally, there are public programs generally offered through your county government. Just find one and learn what to look for.

The real bummer is that there is absolutely nothing that you can do as an employer unless the activity creates a safety, productivity or behavioral problem. If you confront someone or terminate them due to your suspicions, I can almost guarantee you will find yourself in a very expensive lawsuit -- that you will likely lose. The concern must be work-related. That said, it will pay to be very attentive to the employee’s behavior, especially as it has to do with their safety and the safety of others in your shop or on the road (in the case of a road test).

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) does an awesome job of providing some basic guidelines as to what we should be doing as employers to help the employee, maintain a safe environment and deal with the drug use. Please note I have had to edit this tightly for space. For details see

Step 1: Receive Complaints
Concerns that an employee is under the influence often come from co-workers (or even clients or vendors) before a supervisor or manager notices. Managers or HR professionals do not want to send an employee for drug-testing based on hearsay or gossip, but they should document the complaint or concerns of co-workers who bring this information forward.

Step 2: Observe the Employee
Firsthand observation should be made by two members of management. Immediately upon noticing this type of concern, the employee's supervisor should go to this employee's work area for firsthand observation. The observer may be able to view the employee from afar, but usually he or she will need to talk with the employee directly to observe any smell of alcohol, eye dilation, slurred speech or other behaviors. A second observer should perform his or her own firsthand observation of the employee.

Step 3: Remove the Employee from Safety-Sensitive Areas
If the employee is working around machinery or heavy equipment -- or is in any other type of safety-sensitive job, or is acting out in a way that appears to be a safety concern for the employee or others, managers or HR staff may need to immediately remove the employee from the work area and ask him or her to wait in a conference room or an office. Keep them away from customers.

Step 4: Document Observations
Observers should clearly DOCUMENT their observations, including any abnormal behaviors. The observers should be as specific as possible in their descriptions but not attempt to diagnose the situation. For example, an observation may include any items from the list of possible signs of drug use above.

Step 5: Assess the Situation
After the situation has been clearly documented, managers need to assess what they know and observed to determine next steps.

Step 6: Meet with the Employee
When reasonable suspicion exists, testing is/may be warranted and management should meet with the employee. Those leading the meeting should clearly explain what has been observed and documented by management, and that in order to rule out the possibility that the employee is in violation of the company's drug and alcohol policy, the organization will send the employee for a drug or alcohol test. If the employer has not previously, at hire obtained a drug testing consent, the manager or HR staff member should have a consent form available at this meeting for the employee's signature.

Step 7: Prepare Transportation
Employers should not allow employees suspected of being under the influence behind the wheel of a car; therefore, the manager or HR should ensure the employee does not have to drive to the testing center or home afterward. Often employers coordinate with a local cab company for these types of trips. The cab fees and tip should be paid by the employer. [People under the influence may become combative, especially with an employer]

Step 8: Send the Employee for Testing
The manager or HR should contact the drug test facility (refer to treatment centers or legal pros in advance for recommendations) to advise that an employee is on the way for reasonable suspicion testing. The employee should be given the number for the cab company to call after the testing to arrange a ride home, NOT back to the shop.

Step 9: Wait for Test Results
The employee needs to know what to do and expect the following day. In most cases, the employer does not want an employee to return to work until the test results are available.

Step 10: Respond to Employee's Refusal to Take the Test
If the employee refuses to be tested, the employer should refer to its drug and alcohol policy. A policy may state that this refusal will be treated as a positive drug test result or will result in immediate termination of employment. If the employee refuses a cab and attempts to drive home, the employer should never attempt to physically restrain the employee. The organization should note the employee's type of car and license plate and contact the authorities to report concern that the employee may be driving under the influence.

Step 11: Respond to Negative Test Results
If the drug or alcohol test results are negative, the manager should contact the employee and return him or her to the previous job and work shift as soon as possible. Many employers pay the employee for all work shifts and hours he or she missed while waiting for the (negative) test results (even if the employee is not required to be paid).

Step 12: Respond to Positive Test Results
Again, the employer must refer to its company policies and precedence. Depending on company policy, the employer may offer a last-chance agreement allowing the employee to seek counseling, treatment or both -- and return to work with the understanding that he or she will be terminated if under the influence at work again. An employer does have the option to terminate immediately for positive test results -- if this is the employer's common practice, policy or precedence.

Source: SHRM

Get legal help early and often! And, be sure you have a clear, communicated and consistent drug use policy in advance. Trying to make it up on the fly is a disaster.

It is my sincerest prayer and hope that you will never deal with this in your shop or at home, but sadly the numbers are against us.