National Drug-Free Workplace Week continues through Saturday. The annual information and awareness campaign highlights the importance of a drug-free workplace and encourages workers with substance use/abuse challenges of any kind to seek help.

“With the added stress and social distancing of the lingering pandemic, this year's campaign is of added significance,” observed Susan Loden, Fort Lee’s Employee Assistance Program coordinator.

“Under ‘normal’ circumstances, caring people around us may take notice of our struggles and bring concerns to our attention. With many of us teleworking, our previous support structures are stretched thin or out of touch completely.

“In addition to that,” she continued, “social distance may make it easier to mask concerning warning signs from those who normally keep us grounded. Individuals may employ unhealthy coping strategies to deal with overwhelming feelings, such as the isolation of COVID-19 social distancing itself, just as an example.”

National Drug-Free Workplace Week is a time to consider the prevalence of alcohol and substance use in our society, and the detrimental impacts it could have on performance and safety if an individual is impaired on the job.

Loden explained that the “hallmark of addiction” is the loss of control over something in one’s life. Addictions can run the gamut from legal things like nicotine, alcohol and gambling, to illegal activities such as obtaining un-prescribed narcotics and misusing prescription drugs.

Recently released research revealed workforce positive drug tests in the U.S. hit a 16-year high in 2019 and, Loden pointed out, “we were still trending the wrong way at the start of this year.”

Drug testing on Fort Lee has continued, even with the pandemic safeguards in place. Tracey Chappell, Army Substance Abuse Program drug testing coordinator, noted that “COVID-19 has taken many by surprise and everyone has had to adjust to the changes in the work environment. However, employees and supervisors should remember; teleworking does not exempt any individual from being drug tested if their duty position requires it.”

Loden expounded on her office’s capacity as a support system for workers struggling with life/work imbalance. The EAP is available to those feeling overstressed, unable to cope with a demanding work environment or experiencing a crisis such as alcohol or drug use that is affecting their job.

“Many of us know someone who’s use or abuse of a substance is concerning, but we’re not sure how to approach the conversation or even what to say when it comes up,” she said. “Perhaps, we even justify it for them with reasoning such as ‘they’re not dependent on it if it’s just for recreational use,’ or ‘it’s going to be legal soon so it can’t be dangerous.’”

The ongoing campaign is a catalyst for the hard conversations the workforce needs to have about a real and prevalent problem. It’s also an opportunity to raise awareness about the abundance of support services on and around Fort Lee. Anyone needing more information or someone to talk to about their choices can contact any of the following for assistance:

  • Employee Assistance Program, 804-734-9693
  • Substance Use Disorder Care Clinic/Behavioral Health, 804-734-9143
  • On-Call Chaplain, 804-734-1584
  • Veteran Crisis Hotline, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)