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The Workplace : Firms Get Drug War Training : Employers Finding That They Have a Role in the Battle

November 10, 1987|JOHN TIGHE | Times Staff Writer

As a San Jose police officer in the early 1960s, Ted Hunter often responded to calls about drug use at work.

"In those days, we arrested people for having even very small amounts of drugs," Hunter said.

But drug abuse in the workplace has become such a pervasive problem that most police departments don't answer those kinds of calls anymore, according to Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates.

Instead, "they'll tell you to solve the problem yourself," said Hunter, a former director of the Western Region of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He is president of Situation Management, a Tustin firm started earlier this year to combat the problem of drugs in the workplace.

Because police and other government agencies say their focus is on drug suppliers, the battle to reduce consumer demand for drugs must be fought by employers, schools, churches and parents--or it won't be addressed at all, legal authorities say.

Employers should be concerned, Hunter said, because "if you've got somebody using drugs . . . it's draining your productivity."

Hunter's company was founded by two Orange County real estate developers, David Quisling and Victor Boyd. They said they grew concerned about the growing incidence of drug abuse in the workplace and decided to start a business that would do something about it.

The two men said they consulted a number of legal authorities, including Gates, who suggested that they start a consulting firm and recommended that they approach Hunter, now 52, who was approaching retirement after 21 years at the DEA.

Hope for Growth

Quisling and Boyd, partners in Costa Mesa-based Q&B Properties, which owns several office buildings in Orange County, set up a firm, named it Situation Management, and hired Hunter to head it. Quisling said the partners expect Hunter's knowledge and reputation to help the company grow into a national consulting firm.

Hunter's approach begins with establishing a highly prominent drug policy that the client company will stand behind.

Quisling said such policies put employees on notice that they are at risk if they use drugs.

Other experts agree.

When businesses fail to enact policies to fight drug use, "they are telling employees that drug use is OK," said Philip Edelman, medical director of the UCI Medical Center Regional Poison Center. But if employees know that there is a policy and they are going to get in trouble for using drugs, they'll think twice before using them, Edelman said.

After a Situation Management client's drug policy has been disseminated to all employees, the consulting firm brings in a team of specially trained drug detection dogs that explore the facilities during non-working hours.

Hunter said the dogs are sensitive enough to discover where drugs had been located, even if they no longer are on the premises.

Workers Counseled

If drugs are found and can be traced back to a specific employee, Hunter said, employers are counseled to approach the worker, discuss the problem and offer help.

In the area of drug detection methods, many questions about employee rights have not been answered in the courts, according to Paul Samuels, an attorney at the Legal Action Center, a nonprofit, public interest law firm in New York.

While he and other attorneys agree that the use of dogs in drug detection is legal with safeguards, "you're certainly a lot better off when you take action and you have probable cause," Samuels said. "But the laws just aren't that clear yet, and employers have to be careful."

Professor Barry D. Leskin, chairman of the management and organization division of the School of Business Administration at USC, said: "Whatever you do, you first need to be concerned for your workers' rights. Not only must you be within the law, you'd better respect your employees' dignity."

He said that if a company immediately fires an employee discovered to have a drug problem, it is abandoning a responsibility to its workers and losing potentially valuable personnel. But many employers, especially small firms, are ignorant of this, Hunter said.

"Businesses don't know what they are allowed to do and what they must do by law," said Dwight Armstrong, a management labor law attorney at Rutan & Tucker in Costa Mesa,

Attorneys from that law firm and several business experts from the accounting and consulting firm of Arthur Andersen & Co. in Costa Mesa are members of Situation Management's advisory board, as is Sheriff Gates.

Gates, who has tried to rally the business community to join a war on drugs, held a luncheon last month with executives of many of Orange County's largest businesses to discuss the problem.

He said during that meeting that 4,512 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of $240 million have been confiscated in Orange County since January, and he called for a comprehensive education plan to combat drug use.

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