A substance abuse issue at work can be a delicate matter for employers. However, even a lapse in attention during work can have severe consequences for employees, from decreased productivity to injuries and property damage. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that alcohol and drug abuse contributes to more than $740 billion in U.S. crime, lost work productivity, and medical costs each year. It is best to refer employees with suspected substance abuse issues to a Substance Abuse Professional for evaluation and help.
What Does Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) Mean?
Substance abuse professionals (SAPs) are specially trained workers who help employees with drug and alcohol addictions. For instance, drivers who violate the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations may need to see a substance abuse professional under the requirements of their employers. The SAP administers intervention services to those in the transportation industry to maintain public safety and promote a drug-free community through DOT-related substance abuse testing and assessment. They also work as neutral parties for employers to work with employees outside of DOT regulations.
Who needs an SAP evaluation?
The DOT mandates drug and alcohol testing for employees with safety-sensitive occupational responsibilities. CFR part 40 defines the SAP position as evaluating the employee professionally and recommending education/treatment, follow-up tests, and aftercare. It is crucial to understand that SAP is not responsible for determining if an employee can return to work. Under these regulations, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that employees return to work.
Employees who require a meeting with an SAP must qualify under these conditions:
- A recent failure to pass a drug test while employed in a position involving a high level of safety
- DOT regulations and your employer have entered you into a “return to duty” process
- Your employer is subject to the regulations of federal agencies including but not limited to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
What can an SAP Recommend?
SAPs help people who fail work-related drug tests in person to overcome their addictions. They diagnose, treat, and assist employees in recovery by connecting them with resources. The following resources may be helpful:
- Meetings with self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous
- Drug and alcohol educational classes
- Community seminars and meetings
- Professional treatment like residential treatment
- Various treatment options, including inpatient hospitalization, partial inpatient treatment, and outpatient counseling
The SAP may recommend any of these separately or in any combination. They are prohibited from providing these services or referring employees to other substance misuse professionals for financial gain. SAPs provide treatment recommendations and communicate with the Employer Representative (DER) and Medical Review Officer (MRO).
Once an SAP has recommended treatment and recovery options, they must reevaluate the employee to ensure they followed the education and treatment recommendations. This review helps the employer to determine whether the employee can comply with the employer’s treatment plan. In addition, employers may consider the evaluation when reassigning employees to safety-sensitive duties.
What Does the Process Look Like?
In helping their employees get back on their feet, substance abuse professionals use step-by-step methods. A failed drug test will result in the following steps for the employee.
- Failure or refusal to pass a test by an employee
- Suspension of the employee from a safety-sensitive position
- The DOT-regulated process is initiated on behalf of the employee
- A Medical Review Officer (MRO) provides an employee with an evaluation of their condition
- Employees with CDLs designate SAP in the Clearinghouse
- The employee meets with an SAP for an evaluation
- The initial session involves the employee providing DER and/or MRO contact information.
- SAP develops a treatment recommendation and/or education plan, writes and submits a report
- An employee completes an SAP-developed program
- The employee attends the SAP final evaluation
Other Recommendations After a Failed Drug Test
The SAP’s recommendations for the employee do not end after their own recommendations have been completed. Taking certain actions can help an employee avoid failing a drug test and relapsing into addiction. SAPs often recommend at least one of these to keep employees on track and stay healthy.
- Continuing Substance Abuse Education: An SAP may recommend additional classes or other forms of knowledge to prevent relapse.
- Substance Abuse Counseling: SAPs can refer employees to substance abuse counselors for help with their addictions, and they can continue to provide valuable advice.
- Follow-Up Drug Tests: Employees will be required by their employers to take follow-up drug tests semi-regularly to ensure that their habits have not changed.
Employees who fail the final review may have to undergo the process again or face permanent termination from their place of employment.
SAPs can help Employees Get Back On Their Feet Again
Providing staff with drug abuse assistance at work is an employer’s goal, including referrals to SAPs. A substance abuse professional can help employees maintain their jobs and lives. The advice and recommendations they provide can be useful long after their treatment is over.